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Would tax reform solve Nebraska's brain drain issue? Some candidates for governor believe so

Posted at 7:17 PM, Apr 07, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-07 20:17:45-04

OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — The issue of young people leaving Nebraska at a faster rate than they’re coming here, known as "brain drain," is a problem state leaders have been trying to solve for some time.

As this is an election year, those running for governor have offered their own solutions to this problem.

Wednesday we heard from three candidates for governor in a forum sponsored by the Omaha Chamber of Commerce, during which two of the candidates — Brett Lindstrom and Theresa Thibodeau — said they believe lowering taxes is the first step in solving the issue of young people leaving the state.

The issue of brain drain in Nebraska is a complicated one that offers no easy solutions. Several of the candidates running for governor seem to believe there is not a single fix, but some Republicans center their solutions on tax reform.

“Keeping our young people here. Yes it starts with tax reform,” said Theresa Thibodeau.

Candidate Brett Lindstrom points to other states.

“Right now, that they’re not looking at Nebraska, they’re looking for a place like South Dakota or Wyoming that have 0% income tax rate. So we have to do those things to encourage, recruit and obtain talent.”

The Nebraska Chamber of Commerce believes tax policy is one way Nebraska can close the gap when it comes to brain drain.

“Young workforce is pretty sophisticated, having a high tax rate — in fact, higher than any other state in some instances in our region — doesn’t make us very attractive to young people,” said President of the Chamber Bryan Slone.

Thursday, they applauded the legislature for lowering corporate and individual tax rates.

Slone says there’s more work to be done, particularly in the tech sector. He points to states like Utah with a low tax rate and a booming tech economy.

“We’re going to have to build up our technology sector and that sector tends to move to lower-tax states,” said Slone.

Jeff Slobotski works with Omaha-based tech companies daily, helping to run Millwork Commons, which provides companies a collaborative neighborhood to work.

One solution he brings is a collaborative approach, something he says isn’t exactly happening now.

“We’re all kind of pocketed, heads down, siloed throughout the city, throughout the community; those kinds of things can’t happen,” said Slobotski.

He says business, government and post-secondary education can all partner to show the vast opportunities that exist in Omaha. Many tech companies can’t fill jobs fast enough and lots of jobs that are open don’t require extensive knowledge of tech or coding.

“Writing code, that’s important jobs, high paying jobs, but there’s so much more to tech companies than kind of the nuts-and-bolts of the coding side of it,” said Slobotski.

Both Slobotski and Slone agree that the state needs to market itself better and when we have successful businesses like Flywheel and Buildertrend to tell their stories.

“Shouting those from the rooftop, if you will,” said Slobotski.

Slone adds that because the solution is not one-size-fits-all, the state needs to be wide-ranging, allowing for divergent views and backgrounds to work in the same state.

“There’s real opportunity here. I can’t think of a state that has more opportunity and we actually do have a lot of diversity, we just need to expand and celebrate it more,” said Slone.

Slobotski said lawmakers need to be intentional when creating laws to ensure they’re sending the right message to young professionals.

“Some of the policies that we do or do not enact at a state level, at a city level, I think really tell a message of the kind of city and the state that we say we are,” he said.

One candidate for governor, State Senator Carol Blood, a Democrat, believes brain drain could be solved with better jobs and inclusive communities.

“Nebraska needs to raise minimum wage, work on universal childcare, build affordable housing, value diversity and engage all Nebraskans in decisions that affect their lives,” said Blood.

A fairly recent survey by The Neighbor showed the biggest reasons young people move are a lower cost of living, moving closer to family, increased work flexibility and simply looking for another opportunity.

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