Roundtable: Omaha—The No. 1 City for College GraduatesMar 14, 2019 12:30PM ● By Daisy Hutzell-Rodman
College graduates are visible in Omaha daily—in the workplace, in coffee shops, at bars and nightclubs, and more. A 2018 study done by job search site/app Ziprecruiter noted Omaha as the No. 1 city for college graduates to start their careers in. B2B recently spoke with three professionals regarding this designation: Kellee Grimes, manager of Health Services at Mutual of Omaha and a member of the Greater Omaha Young Professionals Council; Jeremy Maskel, director of External Relations & Engagement at Ralston Public Schools and the 2019 president of the Omaha Press Club; and Geoffrey Talmon, M.D., assistant dean of medical education at UNMC.
B2B: Jeremy, you technically did not start out of college in Omaha, but you were in the area (Maskel started in Sioux City, Iowa). What drew you to Omaha?
Maskel: I knew I wanted to grow in a community I loved, if at all possible. So, I started by only applying to cities where I wanted to spend a larger chapter of my life. I had visited Omaha before and loved seeing so many people out for dinner, for Jazz on the Green, or for special events. Everyone I met was so friendly, helpful, and welcoming. Construction was bustling as Midtown Crossing and Aksarben Village opened. Growing up in the Minneapolis suburbs, I loved the opportunity to move into a neighborhood like Dundee and experience a completely new routine. As big as it is, it still felt comfortable and accessible for me as a growing professional.
B2B: Kellee and Geoff, you both graduated from UNL, then UNMC. As medical professionals, I would imagine you have some choice in where you want to live. What kept you in Omaha?
Grimes: I was born here, and grew up in Atlanta, then I came back here during high school. I chose to start my career here because I saw a lot of opportunity. The UNMC had a lot of great programs. I saw the best access to technology and direct access to patients. I hear people tell others, “Oh, you’re new to Omaha? You’re going to love it.”
Talmon: I grew up in Gretna, and I went to Lincoln. UNMC was attractive because it was the right fit—it was flexible, and I didn’t have to go through a lot of red tape. I did a fellowship at Mayo Clinic in Rochester [Minnesota]. In fact, I looked at a job there, but Omaha was the best of both worlds. It has a lot to do, but it is small enough that people know each other.
B2B: What makes Omaha a great place for college graduates from a standard of living point of view?
Maskel: Since so many of my Mizzou classmates were scattered across the country, it was interesting to compare our quality of life those first few years after college. I feel—and continue to believe—that Omaha has a phenomenal balance between rich amenities and an affordable cost of living. I was lucky enough to take in baseball games, visit museums, watch big concert tours, listen to the Omaha Symphony, and try out Omaha’s incredible restaurants with what I earned as a new graduate. Friends living in major cities across the country spent so much on rent or lived so far from the city center, they either didn’t have the resources or time to get out and enjoy what their city had to offer.
Talmon: There are certain things you don’t have to talk about in Omaha. The public schools are good, the cost of living is good. All of our residents buy houses. There’a a lot of amenities in Omaha, but just as much, it’s the things you don’t have to worry about that makes it a great place. We have a resident from Boston at UNMC right now. He and his wife came here in November, and he tells me there are two things he is impressed with: 1) He actually has money in his checking account, and 2) never underestimate the power of a gridded city. The ease of driving is a great benefit.
Grimes: To me, the attractive part is that everything is accessible. There’s not a portion of town that is too far away. And you can really tie your passions to philanthropic ventures. You don’t find that in many places.
B2B: How about from a lifestyle point of view? What makes Omaha great?
Maskel: I believe Omaha offers a great lifestyle to new graduates. I looked at other, similarly-sized communities in 2010 as I prepared to move, and none gave me the same feeling as Omaha. Talking to friends and other people in those communities, asking what they did for fun, I just didn’t feel the enthusiasm I did when talking with people here. I think the balance between options and cost of living would be very difficult to beat.
Talmon: There are certain college-town vibes here. You can find that community if you want. If you don’t want it, you can cross the street and find something different. There’s not a lot of places in Omaha where you would feel out of place.
Grimes: Not every city is someplace that can accommodate you for every stage in your life. Omaha is one of those places. You can go from the bar scene to a family-friendly scene in the same city. The colleges are also connected to the businesses. If you are in Omaha for college, you will be able to make a career because the colleges do such a great job of connecting students and graduates with the business community.
B2B: What would you like to see Omaha do better in order to retain graduates from the local colleges, or to attract graduates of other colleges to the area?
Maskel: I think there’s a lot of people who still do not realize how awesome Omaha really is. Thanks to the efforts of a lot of different groups, word is definitely out more than in 2010, but there is always room to grow. I also think belonging to community groups is key to strengthening and deepening roots of local graduates or people who may only plan to live here for a few years. I am so grateful that I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to help strengthen Omaha and prepare future professionals through the groups I’ve been part of.
Talmon: I’m still amazed by some of the perceptions. I still have people, when I travel, who ask if I ride a tractor to work. From our standpoint, we don’t do enough tooting our own horn. I love our modesty, but it’s why we are not on people’s radar.
Grimes: We recognize we are not perfect, but we are intentionally enacting strategic plans to achieve that. We are creating visibility to help with that goal. We need to make sure the level of access to all people is equitable. There are different people in my peer group who have a different experience from me because of having a different background. What is great is that we are starting to acknowledge that race is a factor, we are bringing these conversations front and center.
B2B: As part of a professional organization/college, what are you trying to do to attract or retain college graduates and young professionals? Has it been successful?
Maskel: I’m lucky to serve on the PRSA Nebraska Board of Directors and focused last year on engaging with university student PR groups at local colleges. Many soon-to-be graduates planned on moving to larger cities because of the perception that’s where jobs are—or the restaurants and nightlife are best there. I am also president of the Omaha Press Club, and it’s important to research what types of opportunities young professionals are seeking, then see how we can best match. Ensuring young professionals can see themselves in the organization and find that first connection to be accessible are priorities.
Grimes: I know a lot of people who moved back to Omaha will tell you making friends after college is hard. I see more intentional, and larger, networking groups happening. These kind of organic meetups are great. There’s a lot going on to try and bring people together, whether that’s through a school or through a social group.
Talmon: It’s not just new groups, but established groups as well. I’m a Mason. The existing social groups are becoming more intentional about recruiting. With residents, it used to be that you were only friends with the families of the people you work with. That is not always the case these days. We are seeing residents pursuing other passions, which is good for their work-life balance.
This article was printed in the April/May 2019 edition of B2B. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.