A self-administered questionnaire was mailed in May and June to approximately 1,050 households in the Nebraska Panhandle using mailing lists designed to identify households that were new to the area in the last five years. Responses from those who had moved within the Panhandle and those who moved more than five years ago were excluded. Our return rate for usable surveys was 33-percent. A total of 321 new movers to the Nebraska Panhandle region since 2000 are the basis for the following summary.
The eleven counties included in the sample were Banner, Box Butte, Cheyenne, Dawes, Deuel, Garden, Kimball, Morrill, Scotts Bluff, Sheridan, and Sioux. The 14-page questionnaire included questions pertaining to the new residents' background, reasons for moving, decision making tools used and views of their current community.
In this study, researchers investigated the extent of such strategies and marketing programs, both within the Panhandle study area and throughout Nebraska and its neighboring states. Using state and regional economic development association membership directories, a multi-staged Delphi Survey was conducted to assess the array of resident-attraction strategies being used and the practitioners' assessment of their success.
The Delphi Method of data collection and analysis is a structured survey for collecting and synthesizing information and knowledge for an identified group of experts. Using a series of questionnaires in a controlled feedback loop (of opinions), the issue(s) under investigation can be moved toward some group consensus. In other words, the techniques can achieve some group judgment without the biases that can be introduced by more out-spoken and influential opinion leaders.
This study used a series of iterations (at least two) to identify the various recruitment strategies being used and the perceived effectiveness of such efforts. More specifically, the economic development professionals/practitioners being surveyed were asked to identify particular targeted groups and strategies and the reasoning behind those efforts. Moreover, various scalar measures were employed to allow the respondents to assess the effectiveness of such efforts relative to the resources/costs expended. Given this information, the researchers informed the full group of respondents of the previous iteration's results and allowed for their response to the new evidence. By using this technique, the centralizing tendencies of the economic development professionals' insights were achieved.
The survey process was conducted electronically and involved a sample of approximately 1,200 community development association members across Nebraska and four adjoining Great Plains states ( Colorado , Kansas , South Dakota and Wyoming ). Many of this membership were employed as city administrators, economic development directors, and active community development volunteers. Therefore, the expertise of the surveyed group regarding recruitment/retention strategies was extensive.
Focus Group Methodology
All new residents receiving the mail survey had the option to participate in the focus groups. Of the 321 mail survey respondents, 78 individuals participated in 12 focus groups held in six Panhandle communities during the summer of 2007. The majority of the focus group participants, ranging in age from 21 to 81, moved with their spouse, significant other or family. First time Nebraskans represent 63 percent of the focus group participants, compared to 38 percent of those that answered the mail survey.
Thirteen questions were asked during the focus group interviews, such as: "What attracted you to the community?" and "Is the community what you expected?" The final question during the interview was, "What advice would you give to communities to develop strategies to attract and keep new residents?"