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Weekly Column - The Recipe for "The Good Life'


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One of the best parts of my job is visiting different communities across Nebraska when the Senate breaks as I did last week. I am always greeted with warm welcomes. Our state's great sense of community is on magnificent display in town after town, whether it is neighbors pitching in to help comfort firefighters battling grass fires, or volunteers hosting a fundraiser for the local food bank.

Nebraska truly is "the good life." We've always known this, but recently, our way of life has gained national recognition. Communities across the state have landed in the top ranks of a number of recent national surveys and studies. And from Omaha to Custer County, our state's resiliency and culture are common factors leading to Nebraska's success.

Lincoln was just rated the happiest metropolitan area in the United States by the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, which rates communities on a variety of factors such as life evaluation, emotional health, work environment, physical health, healthy behaviors and access to basic necessities. Omaha has weathered the national economic downturn better than any of the nation's other largest metropolitan areas, according to recent analysis by the Brookings Institute. Custer County, home to Broken Bow, was just named one of the best places to live in the United States by American Cowboy Magazine. And Nebraska ranked 7th in Gallup's state well-being study.

Lincoln's accolades are, in large part, attributed to job satisfaction and a low unemployment rate. These were major contributing factor to Omaha's success in the Brookings Institute's survey as well. Our state's economic diversity and conservative business principles have also allowed us to avoid some of the most turbulent bends and dips in an economic rollercoaster ride that has much of the country still searching for solid ground.

Throughout the Great Recession, when many industries were battling anemic gains or even substantial losses, the ag sector, the motor of Nebraska's economy, remained strong. Today, Nebraska still enjoys the second-lowest unemployment rate in the nation, at 3.8 percent, compared with the national average of 7.7 percent. Greater job security leads to less stress and a better overall sense of well-being.

Our principles and common sense approach to governing have been just as beneficial in contributing to our coveted way of life, and our state's government has followed suit. In Nebraska, we balance our budget and live within our means, even when it requires difficult choices. We know that allowing folks to innovate spurs economic growth, so we provide space for new ideas to become reality. We know that more money in the pockets of all Nebraskans means more economic potential, so we strive to keep our tax burden reasonable. And we understand that bigger government, however well-intentioned, is not the key ingredient to greater prosperity. Because of all of this, Nebraska has withstood the recession relatively well, emerging from the downturn as a thriving place to start a business or raise a family. And its appeal has not gone unnoticed.

Washington can learn a lot from the leadership and lifestyles enjoyed in Nebraska. In the midst of economic calamity, the heartland has truly been the steadfast heartbeat of America. Responsible management of the state's resources in good times has led to greater flexibility in difficult times. A balanced budget and minimal regulations have provided certainty for consumers and removed the anchors on innovation and growth. All this has helped Nebraska become known, not just at home, but across the country, as the good life.

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