Nebraska at a Glance
Known for its Midwestern charm and its wide-open spaces, Nebraska is a state for the hard-working, the down-to-earth and the get-down-to-business. Sure, Nebraska is a state where cows outnumber people and corn and dry beans outnumber people. But the people of Nebraska know one thing for sure — Nebraska is a wonderful state to live in.
Nearly 80,000 miles of rivers and streams wind their way through the eastern lowlands to the high dunes of the Sandhills and into the badlands of the Great Plains. The richness of the terrain makes Nebraska an ideal state for raising crops, livestock and families.
With a population of just under 2,000,000, the Cornhusker State has one of the largest land areas and lowest population densities in the country. In addition to having all this room to roam, Nebraska residents enjoy a low cost of living — one of the 15 lowest in the country — along with low rates of unemployment.
Because 92% of the land in Nebraska is used for farming or ranching, it’s not surprising that one out of every four jobs in the state is related to agriculture. But Nebraska isn’t all farm and ranchland … remember, a full 8% is used for something else! (Also, keep in mind that 8% of Nebraska equals three Delawares). Part of that small slice of the state creates the major cities of Nebraska — Omaha and Lincoln — both of which are critical engines in the state’s economy. Manufacturing, transportation, banking, real estate, technology and insurance are important drivers in creating job opportunities in the Silicon Prairie, from its big cities to its small towns.
So, if you’re considering a move to Nebraska, here are some helpful things to think about as you weigh your options.
Living in Nebraska
Nebraska ranks as one of America’s top 10 states for education, according to U.S. News & World Report. With a 91.7% high school graduation rate, the state has bolstered its computer science courses for primary and secondary schools and also invested in community college workforce programs to train students for burgeoning careers in manufacturing and tech.
At the college level, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln is a well-regarded, tier-one research institution, known for its pioneering ecology and agricultural sciences programs, as well as its deep commitment to the arts. One of the country’s oldest university-affiliated literary magazines, Prairie Schooner (a nod to wagon-trainers of yore), is based here. Meanwhile, UNL’s Sheldon Museum of Art has a world-class permanent collection.
Nebraska is lauded as one of the top 10 states for business in the U.S. The state is unsurprisingly dominant in agriculture — where it is a leader in cattle, corn and ethanol — but manufacturing is where it really earns its stars for innovation. Manufacturing is the fastest-growing and second-largest industry by employment in this right-to-work state. Taking advantage of the highly educated workforce, easy access to steel and affordable and reliable energy and real estate, Cornhuskers are able to attract and retain global industries.
The 1,500-plus manufacturing firms in Nebraska provide upwards of 100,000 jobs in the state and contribute 10% of the Nebraska GDP.
Nebraska is a leader in food manufacturing, fabricated metals and pet food — a sector which has seen an astonishing 20% employment growth in the last five years alone. Mars Pet Products, Nestle and Royal Canin all have a base in Nebraska. But Nebraska manufacturing has a diverse portfolio of industries.
In 2022, several of them faced off in the first-annual NE Manufacturing Alliance’s Coolest Thing Made in Nebraska competition. Christmas cake haters will be unsurprised to learn that Beatrice Bakery’s “Grandma’s Fruitcakes” did not make the final slice, beaten out by Kawasaki’s NYC Subway car, which took top honors, and toppled Royal Engineered Composites’ Mars Rover ducts, Virtual Incision’s MIRA surgical platform and even Dorothy Lynch’s Tasty Toppings.
The cost of living in Nebraska is low compared to the rest of the nation. The median home value here is just $174,100, and rent averages roughly $900 per month. Another advantage to being a Nebraskan? Wages. The median household income in Nebraska is $78,109 — higher than all its immediate neighbors except Colorado.
Utilities still offer the highest weekly wage in the state, but there are other top employers that include Union Pacific Railroad, Cabela’s and Nebraska’s five Fortune 500 companies: Berkshire Hathaway, ConAgra, Union Pacific, Mutual of Omaha and Kiewit Corporation. The job market continues to improve across almost all industries. Nebraska’s unemployment rate — currently at 2.5% — was the 5th lowest in the U.S. in October 2022.
Weather in Nebraska
As a Great Plains state, Nebraska’s weather is not for the faint of heart. Winters can be brutal, when Arctic air descends from Canada and sends the mercury plummeting well below zero. The average temperature in January is only in the 20s. But you will experience four distinct seasons in the state of Nebraska. So, rest assured, winter will not last forever!
Because of the state’s varied terrain, one of the greatest variations in climate is the amount of precipitation. Southeastern Nebraska can see more than 30 inches of rain — enough to sustain important crop production like corn, soy and wheat when supplemented by irrigation — but about 50% of the state is considered semi-arid and doesn’t see even 20 inches of rain in a year.
Summertime brings the other extreme — heat and humidity. Nebraska has its Southwestern neighbors to thank for its highs, which can easily reach into the 90s F and even over 100 F. However, the statewide average is only in the 70s F. Wind and storms are both mighty forces in the Cornhusker State and Nebraskans know all too well the threat of living in Tornado Alley.
With these extremes, you might wonder when to move to Nebraska. Fall is usually the most pleasant and consistent season across the state, when storms are seldom and the snows have not yet arrived. September and October are the best times to visit or move to Nebraska.
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Best Cities to Live in Nebraska
Nebraska’s most populous metropolitan areas are fairly concentrated in the southeastern part of the state along the I-80 corridor, a major manufacturing, transportation and service hub. One of the draws across the state is the low rate of violent crime.
If you’re moving to Nebraska, here are four of the most popular (and populous) cities to consider.
In the state capital of Lincoln, you’ll find more than just the heart of the Nebraska state government. The flagship location of the University of Nebraska (UNL) is here, which keeps this prairie city particularly young and vibrant. As part of the Big Ten Conference, Huskers are hardcore fans and players. But it also contributes to cutting edge research in the sciences and liberal arts.
Lincoln has grown considerably over the last ten years, adding over 30,000 people to its population, which now sits at 292,657. Housing costs are well below the national average: the median home value in Lincoln is around $194,000 and rent averaging $920 per month.
Lincoln is a family-friendly city to live in and visit, with numerous attractions to entertain your crew.
The historic downtown Haymarket District is a great place to start. You’ll find indie bookstores, vintage clothing retailers, art supplies, clothiers and specialty shops here. If you get hungry while you’re shopping, there’s no better place to grab a bite than downtown. From mainstays like The Oven, serving impeccable northern Indian cuisine, to C. Berry’s BBQ to the (402) Creamery, you’ll find more than enough to satisfy your appetite.
One of the more unusual culinary contributions Lincoln has made is the “runza,” a signature sandwich born at a one-time drive-in that’s now become a major chain across the region. Unlike ordinary burgers, a runza tucks a mixture of seasoned ground beef and cabbage into its own self-contained roll — airtight, like a true submarine. The spot also serves another of Nebraska’s brow-raising lunch combos: Chili and cinnamon rolls. Nebraskans don’t question the weird when it works.
Omaha, Nebraska’s most populated city/metro area, is on the right on eastern border with Iowa, giving it a major distribution advantage. Two of Omaha’s most famous exports are, naturally, its mail-order steaks and billionaire Warren Buffett. But to the more than 487,000 people who call it home, Omaha is a Midwestern center of innovation and commerce.
The city has added nearly 80,000 new residents since 2010, and it’s no mystery why. This is a city that invests in itself, devoting more than two billion dollars to the development of a new convention center, the downtown RiverFront park, new public art and pedestrian trails, including the breathtaking Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge — locally known as “Bob” — spanning the Missouri River.
While Omaha barely makes it into the 50 largest cities in America, it has plenty of advantages that population alone can’t contribute. The historic infrastructure of the city lends a lot of character to its distinctive neighborhoods, like the Blackstone District, where the Reuben sandwich was invented, and Little Bohemia, where immigrants from around the world have settled and made a lasting and creative impression.
Housing in Omaha is remarkably affordable: The median home value is $177,700 and rent averages $999 a month, on par with state averages. In nearby Bellevue, a popular suburb of the Omaha/Council Bluffs region, the population is also on the rise. Now home to over 63,000 people — up from 50,137 just a decade ago — the city offers everything suburbanites are looking for: low cost of living, great schools, low crime and pleasant surroundings.
Grand Island (pop. 52,335), a town roughly 100 miles west of Lincoln, made a name for itself as a hub on the Union Pacific Railroad, and the city’s main industries are in food processing — meatpacking included. But the city is also hub on another major transportation route — sandhill cranes. You’ll recognize region’s most famous visitors by their scarlet caps and their distinctive dance, which they perform en masse upon their arrival in the Platte River Valley each spring during their long journey back north.
If you’re moving to Grand Island, you’ll get no better introduction to the city’s roots than at the Stuhr Museum, an expansive campus with over 107 historic buildings, including a recreated railroad town, where you can shop at the mercantile and dine at The Silver Dollar. In the summer, some visitors swear by the restaurant’s most unusual treat — frozen pickle juice — which seems like it would pair well with a runza, right?
Grand Island has grown modestly over the past 10 years, adding just under 4,000 new residents. With a median home value of 157,400 and rent averaging $807, housing in Grand Island is more affordable than in other cities in Nebraska.
Plus, families enjoy fun community events year-round, like Grand Comic Con, where your favorite superheroes (and villains) come to life; Husker Harvest Days, a farm show in its fifth decade; and Hear Grand Island, a 10-week-long summer concert series that’s free to all residents.
Things You Can Only See and Do in Nebraska
One of the top attractions in the state (and one of the best of its kind in the country), Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium has over 160 acres of explorable exhibits. One of the most unusual is the Desert Dome — the largest indoor desert in the world — which contains a 55-foot-tall mountain and hundreds of arid-climate-loving species, including lots of venomous snakes.
If large land mammals are more your speed, the African Grasslands exhibit is a landscape full of giraffe, rhino and elephant joy, including the park’s newest (and cutest) additions, Sonny and Eugenia — two African elephant calves born in January 2022.
Another family favorite is the Omaha Children’s Museum, where kids can dream and build big in exhibits that encourage their imaginations to run wild. Everything here is hands-on and high-energy, from learning to use tools in the Tinker Factory to building with light in the Art Smart Center.
The best trash-to-treasure story in the state is Lincoln’s Sunken Gardens. The city has transformed a former city dumpsite into a 1.5-acre jewel with lily ponds, a healing garden and even public art. Mature trees anchor the space’s perennial and annual gardens, which featured over 30,000 plants last year.
For the past 40 years, Omaha residents have marked the unofficial start of fall with Septemberfest, a blowout Labor Day celebration with live entertainment, a major parade, carnival rides, food and more. Will there be people on stilts? Check. Fire-twirling acrobats? Check. A rib-eye cook-off? Did you really need to ask? This is Nebraska.
If you’re looking for outdoor attractions, the Niobrara National Scenic River, which wends its way across northern Nebraska, is a 76-mile kayaker’s paradise. The waters are gentle enough for tubing, too. More than 200 waterfalls line the river’s banks, the tallest of which is at Smith Falls State Park, a popular spot for camping and picnics.
Surrounding this Niobrara are one of the most distinctive features of the Nebraska landscape: the Sandhills. The largest formation of dunes in the western hemisphere, the Sandhills comprise nearly 13 million acres across the state. Some dunes reach heights of 400 feet. The Sandhills support more than 675 species of native plants and a lot of cattle — 535,500 beef cows graze on these impressive grasslands.
If you’re in the northwestern badlands, your family will really enjoy a trip to Toadstool Geologic Park, where you can go bouldering among the mushroom-y rock formations and hike the Great Plains Trail. You might even spy a fossil or two.
But if you really want to see fossils, the best place is Ashfall Fossil Beds State Historical Park. Visitors are encouraged to engage with the paleontologists on site, who are actively unearthing new (well, really old) specimens of barrel-bodied rhinoceros, the stout 3-toed horse, ancestral camels, the raccoon dog and other extinct species.
Because Nebraska is cattle country, dude ranches abound. What better way is there to bond with your family than on horseback in a remote, wi-fi-free zone, where there is nothing else to do but herd steer and talk to each other? Some outfits will organize turkey or deer hunts on the property. Others will put you to work mending fences. All will give you a new appreciation of the landscape, the starry night sky, the wilderness and each other.
What to Eat in Nebraska
Nebraska is cattle country, and if you’ve got carnivores in your crew, they’ll be very content in this steak-happy state. There is likely no beef more famous than Omaha Steaks, which has been in operation since 1917. But amazing restaurants abound, so why not dine in?
The Cedar Room in North Platte serves a traditional menu with a few Western twists. You can get Rocky Mountain oysters as a starter … those are, um, deep-fried bull testicles served with cocktail sauce. The restaurant also makes a “beast burger” with wild game favorites like elk, bison and wild boar, blended with wagyu beef. It’s then slathered with caramelized onions, BBQ sauce, and topped with cheddar and bacon.
If you’re looking for fine dining, however, you can’t do better than the 801 Chophouse in Omaha, which promises and delivers perfection. The Drover is another classic, known for its whiskey-marinated steaks. Not to be overlooked is Gorat’s Steak House, a modest mom-and-pop founded in 1944, is supposedly Warren Buffett’s favorite.
But Nebraska isn’t just for meat-lovers. In Omaha, vegans will find their folk at Modern Love, a plant-based haven that creates convincing poutine, buffalo wings and pepperjack steak sandwiches — all with no animals involved.
One unexpected Nebraska original is Kool-Aid — the refreshing beverage was invented by Edwin Perkins in 1927 in Hastings. America has had colorful, sugary moustaches ever since. No word on whether Perkins bore any resemblance to the Kool-Aid man, the beloved anthropomorphized mascot, or had a similar habit of joyfully bursting through brick walls.
Dorothy Lynch dressing — a fat-free, tomato soup-based condiment — was also invented in Nebraska, and its fans will put it on and in anything! Salads … buffalo wings … even muffins. We draw a hard line at salad dressing on muffins.
While Nebraska hasn’t made a name for itself in the world of pizza, La Casa is legendary in the state of Nebraska. This pizza and pasta joint opened its doors in 1953, and it has been serving up Italian American favorites and house-made originals ever since. One of the starchiest indulgences is Peppi’s Potato — a double-crust pizza topped with a potatoes, onions, tomatoes and hamburger — a true slice of comfort.
And speaking of comfort, a visit to the old-fashioned ice cream parlor The Potter Sundry is a trip back in time. Your family’s eyes will light up at the shakes, malts and fritters. The star of this diner and treat shop> Its famous Tin Roof Sundae: Chocolate and vanilla ice cream topped with marshmallow crème, hot fudge and peanuts. It also serves salad … if that makes you feel better.
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