Small City Spotlight: Lincoln, Nebraska

Small City Spotlight: Lincoln, Nebraska
by Jian Sun
June 05, 2015

AS THE CAPITAL OF NEBRASKA, LINCOLN IS AN EDUCATIONAL, ECONOMICAL, AND CULTURAL POWERHOUSE PUTTING A LOT OF OTHER CITIES, BOTH BIG AND SMALL, TO SHAME.

As a New Yorker, my stereotypical vision of Nebraska involves cows, corn, open pastures, and tumbleweed blowing by a saloon. 

That is NOT Lincoln, Nebraska (or even anything resembling the 21st century maybe). 

In fact, Lincoln has been voted one of the “Best Places to Live” and the “Happiest City in America,” which is no easy feat for a small city of 300,000 residents in Southeastern Nebraska. 

With humble beginnings as a salt mine town, the city named after our 16th President is now home to the University of Nebraska - Lincoln (Go Big Red!), a thriving economy (with a lowly 2.3% unemployment rate), and the best work environment in the country. 

With humble beginnings as a salt mine town, the city named after our 16th President is now home to the University of Nebraska - Lincoln, a thriving economy, and the best work environment in the country. 

Over 130 miles of parks and wilderness offer a variety of outdoor activities, while historic areas like the Haymarket District contain boutiques, art, restaurants, and entertainment venues.

Life on the Prairie

What may be most surprising is that there’s a booming tech startup community in Lincoln thanks to the University of Nebraska Technology Park (launched in 1997) and Nebraska’s Angel Network (2006). The University provides both new talent and resources, while residents that moved away are coming back to get funded and open new businesses.The startup culture is so good that they’re now calling Lincoln “Silicon Prairie.”

Lincoln’s tech scene isn’t a carbon copy of San Francisco or New York, though. There’s a much more supportive, mid-western attitude that combines collaboration and mentorship. {Click to tweet} A recent NPR story phrased it as the difference between “what can you do for me?” and “how can I help you?”

Tack on a few more bonuses like low cost of living, affordable housing, great green spaces, increased diversity from the Universities, a healthy dose of nightlife and restaurants,  and you have a pretty good deal. 

Need more big city excitement? Worry not—neighboring big city, Omaha, is just one hour away.

Related: Small City Spotlight: Bend, Oregon

Top 3 Companies in Lincoln

Healthcare, telecommunications, service and manufacturing jobs are abundant in Lincoln, but the real perks lie in the tech industry (not surprising), where healthy lunches and foosball games are plenty. 

Healthcare, telecommunications, service and manufacturing jobs are abundant in Lincoln, but the real perks lie in the tech industry (not surprising), where healthy lunches and foosball games are plenty.

Here are the top three companies with the best perks for women: 

Firespring: If you want a history lesson of how tech emerged in Lincoln, look no further than Firespring, which began in 1992 as a printing franchise. Firespring started offering digital marketing in 2001, then moved to University of Nebraska Technology Park shortly after, and finally became Firespring in 2007. 

Now located back downtown, Firespring recently merged with three other local companies in Lincoln (no one was fired) to become a full-service marketing firm that offers digital, print, and PR services. In addition, Firespring is also creating a non-profit incubator space to promote coworking and collaboration under their offshoot, Nonprofit Hub. 

Benefits are bountiful with catered lunches, beer on tap, nerf guns, unlimited PTO, couches, a game lounge, and a friendly, yet hardworking culture. My personal favorite? They built a slide from the second floor straight into the company lounge. #BestIdeaEver

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Hudl: Unless you’re a serious coach or athlete, you might not have heard of this sports video-editing software company founded by three Cornhuskers from UNL. Listed as one of the fastest-growing companies in the country, Hudl mainly focuses on sports at the high school-level, but just acquired an Australian company that has major collegiate and professional teams, too. Expansion means building a new office in their neighborhood that will accommodate 300 new employees, doubling their current workforce and tripling their current office space.  

Benefits include being located in the middle of the hip Haymarket District (new office will be in West Haymarket), free lunch, company outings, close-knit office, unlimited vacation, flexible travel, happy hours, and easy access to the CEOs (they’re always around). 

And if you’re a big sports fan? You get one free trip to a professional sports match/game/event every year. 

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Zillow: After acquiring local mortgage technology company, Mortech, online real-estate giant, Zillow kept the office in Lincoln and then opened a second one in 2014. 

With offices in Seattle, San Francisco, Irvine, and New York, Zillow took the Silicon Prairie culture seriously and offered similar benefits like game rooms, catered lunches from local eateries, free snacks and drinks, office outings, high-profile guest speakers, flexible hours, ergonomic work stations, plenty of PTO, and a laid-back, collaborative work environment. 

The Glassdoor reviews of the Lincoln office couldn’t be better (100% approval) and their 12-week paid maternity leave, 4-week paid paternity leave, $5000 adoption fund, and emergency childcare clearly puts family (and women) first. 

Come One, Come All

While I can honestly say I learn a lot from writing these city guides, Lincoln really schooled me good. It’s a historic and vibrant small town with plenty of job growth to offer a booming millennial population. {Click to tweet}

Large companies, small startups, authentic vietnamese food, college football—all of these things can be found in Lincoln. You can’t define it in a neat little package and that’s probably why it’s so interesting. 

Have more information about Lincoln, Nebraska you’d like to share? Tell me more about your experiences and recommendations below or on Twitter.

Related: Small City Spotlight: Raleigh, North Carolina

Photos: Architectural Design Associates & Journal Star