Rural Towns Face Aging Populations

If they’re not staying in their home, they’re at least staying at home in their communities rather than going off to Norfolk, Wayne, Sioux City, other areas. They can stay in Battle Creek,

- Battle Creek City Administrator Michael Fleer

BATTLE CREEK — It’s common knowledge that the trend is for the young population to leave rural Nebraska. But what would happen if the elderly population starts leaving too? Well, that would spell disaster for many rural communities who feature a rapidly growing percentage of residents over the age of 65. One northeast Nebraska town recognized this threat and looked at ways to solve it.

“The population is maturing, it’s getting older,” Battle Creek City Administrator Michael Fleer said. “So yes, we did try and address that to offer more opportunities within the community.”

That’s Battle Creek City Administrator Michael Fleer, who helped spearhead an effort to get taxpayers to fund an assisted living addition to the town’s elderly care facility, Community Pride Care Center. Battle Creek voters overwhelmingly approved a $5 million bond issue and a 1.5 percent sales tax hike to pay for the bonds back in May of 2014. The addition and other improvements debuted last fall. Fleer says the town realized how important having a quality assisted living center is.

“If they’re not staying in their home, they’re at least staying at home in their communities rather than going off to Norfolk, Wayne, Sioux City, other areas. They can stay in Battle Creek,” Fleer said.

And facilities like Community Pride across northeast Nebraska could be getting more crowded. Data from the US Census Bureau indicated every county except Wayne in our seven county sample increased its percentage of residents over the age of 65 over the last 15 years. The more rural, the older the county. Antelope County’s median age is over 10 years older than Platte County. 46.5 compared to just under 36.

But still, in those bigger cities like Columbus the focus is on recruiting young families to offset the aging trend.

“We see a lot of couples move back when they are either thinking about having that first child or maybe they’ve had their first child or two,” Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce President K.C. Belitz said. “That really is our sweet spot, so we need to be a community that fits that.”

That idea isn’t lost on Fleer either. With new industry and jobs coming to Norfolk, he hopes developers and new resident look to Battle Creek.

“Come look at our school system, look at our parks, our pools, and our housing and see what we have,” Fleer said. “Hopefully we can get some people interested in coming to us.”

Battle Creek has an unofficial motto of BC Pride. The town’s pride is swelling and so is its population. It was a rare exception to the rule that towns under 20,000 in Nebraska are shrinking. Battle Creek, with 1200 residents, grew in the last Census.

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