OMAHA, Neb. — A new report based on census data shows the immigrant community in Nebraska is not only growing, but the state has some of the highest rates of increase in immigrants and refugee populations in the country. Researchers say this is not by accident, as the Omaha Metro and the entire state have taken intentional steps to diversify the population.
The report from Heartland Forward shows that more immigrants are making their way to the 20 Heartland States including Nebraska and are leaving coastal states like California and New York.
“In the Heartland you can have a house with a backyard and raise a family. That’s attractive to many recent immigrants in coming to the Heartland," President of Heartland Forward Ross Devol said.
Devol said the research team looked at population trends and census data to notice the shift in migration to Heartland states.
What they found is that over the last decade, the Heartland's share of immigrants rose from 23.5 percent in 2010 to 31.1 percent in 2019. Nebraska, specifically, experienced rapid foreign-born growth with 28.4 percent from 2010 to 2019 — more than double the 12.9 percent national rate. Analysis on foreign-born population changes in the last decade places Omaha in the top 25 U.S. metro regions in terms of percentage gained.
Report findings also show that Nebraska lands among the top ten states per capita for refugees resettled — triple the national rate.
"Omaha is somewhat unique. The other locations are doing this, but they're being intentional about trying to welcome immigrants because they recognize it's an economic development opportunity for them," Devol said.
President of the Greater Omaha Chamber David Brown said specific programs have been put it place to attract a more diverse workforce.
"We saw an increase in our international citizenry, more than twice the national average. From a brain-drain perspective, it nearly flipped our numbers from being a net negative to being a net positive," he said in regards to Omaha's economy.
Places of worship, like Urban Abbey in Omaha, are also credited with helping with that growth — providing a sense of familiarity for immigrants through religion.
"I think there's always growing edges for us and for every congregation around inclusion that's meaningful...around language, about eliminating as many barriers as we can," founding pastor of Urban Abbey, Deborah McKnight said.
Researchers and economist say the increase in immigrants to the area is a positive for the overall population — as fertility rates continue to decrease nationwide.
"Immigrants can help fill a vital void currently and also provide labor force growth in the future," Devol said.