Opinion: Underestimated Nebraska gets left off the list…again 

I am an outsider. A Texan through-and-through, I relocated to the Omaha area in 2018 to be closer to my wife’s family. Honestly, even after marrying a girl from Nebraska, I never saw myself moving here. Yet here I sit, a Midwest Texas transplant. Where I come from, Nebraska and, by extension, Omaha, is known…

Photo courtesy John Matychuk, unsplash.com
Photo courtesy John Matychuk, unsplash.com

I am an outsider. A Texan through-and-through, I relocated to the Omaha area in 2018 to be closer to my wife’s family. Honestly, even after marrying a girl from Nebraska, I never saw myself moving here.

Yet here I sit, a Midwest Texas transplant.

Where I come from, Nebraska and, by extension, Omaha, is known for one of three things:

1)  Cornhusker Football (The program prominence of the late 20th century and memories of the former Big 12 still carry some weight.)

2)  Omaha Steaks

3)  The College World Series

However, after living here for the last three years, I’ve come to know an Omaha that is so much more than its flyover reputation suggests.  

Jonathan Holland, SPN Editor-in-Chief / Managing Editor

U.S. News ranks Omaha, Neb. as the 25th in Best Places to Live and #15 in Cheapest Places to Live. When talking to other outsiders, most agree that these rankings feel about right for Omaha.  

However, when I look at the list of cities higher in the rankings, I am certain Omaha is massively underrated in both categories.  

Before moving to Nebraska, we lived in Austin, Tex. Austin, ranked #5 in Best Places to Live, is indeed an incredible city. However, traffic is terrible, there is always a wait at your favorite foodie spots, and the cost of housing is getting out of hand. I love central Texas, but Austin can keep its weird $400,000, 900 sq. ft. houses, endless gridlock, and vegan lobster mac & cheese (yes, that’s a real thing). I’ll take Omaha.

One of the best-kept secrets here, and eastern Nebraska in general, is the tech community. The innovation that comes out of the region is staggering. Anyone that is a part of this tech community may advocate for Omaha being high on a list of affordable and influential tech cites. Yet, a recent report compiled by Coding Dojo does not even rank Omaha on its list of Most Affordable Cities to Start or Continue Your Developer Career. With all due respect to Coding Dojo, what the what?!?

Lowell, MA, made the list with its median rent of $1,541, as did Bremerton, WA ($1,334) but not $963 median rent Omaha. Coding Dojo justifies this by weighing the average cost of rent with the number of entry and mid-level developer jobs located within a 25-mile radius of the city center. Well, it just so happens that Boston and Seattle are within the 25-mile radius of Lowell and Bremerton and skews the number of available development positions for the “area.” But, of course, areas with a population of 4 million+ will have more jobs; that’s how supply and demand works.

While eastern Nebraska may not have thousands of tech jobs available, hundreds of tech positions go unfilled every day. A person with the proper training or experience can easily find a tech job here. Additionally, average tech careers in the area pay $86,320, 79% higher than the national median wage of $48,223 and 110% higher than the local median salary of $38,640 for non-tech jobs. These statistics mean that someone living in the Omaha area who works in tech will make, on average, over $1.1 million more in their careers than the average American. This increased salary, combined with the cost of living in Omaha—just 92% of the national average—means a person can easily carve out a piece of the good life. 

With the growing start-up tech community here and tech powerhouses like U.S. Strategic Command, LinkedIn, and Facebook, the eastern Nebraska region is full of tech careers, opportunities, and advancements. And with the comparatively low cost of living and high median salary for tech professionals, Omaha should rank highly on that Code Dojo top ten. But that is not the case. That’s fine. Our Midwestern niceties will let your shade keep us cool. We do not need to brag or be brash. After all, we already live here; we know how good we have it. But those who don’t know are missing out.

As for this Texan, Omaha reminds me of Austin from the early 90s: under-the-radar cool, poised for growth, and ready to be the next great tech city.

When that happens, we can smile and say, “Ope, let me just sneak by ya” to the Lowells and Bremertons of the world. I just hope our traffic stays manageable. 

Born and raised in Texas, Jonathan Holland is a non-profit executive with the AIM Institute in Omaha, Nebraska. Jonathan currently serves as the Sr. Director of Development and Compliance and oversees Silicon Prairie News’s business operations. Jonathan has a Master’s Degree in Non-Profit Management from the University of Houston – Downtown and is a current student in the Interdisciplinary Leadership Doctoral program at Creighton University. Jonathan is married to his wife Rebecca, and they have one daughter, Jocelyn.

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