Seminar mulls ‘rural rebound’

SLEEPY EYE – A University of Minnesota Community Economics Extension Educator who grew up in St. Paul but recently bought a Clarkfield home hosted a Bridging Brown County (BBC) seminar Friday on state population migration trends.

“Lots of media headlines and stories read that rural towns are dying, asleep at the wheel don’t wake up when something happens, are not really true,” said Neil Linscheid. “Things are changing in rural Minnesota, but towns aren’t really dying. Only three small towns dissolved in the past 50 years. Since 1970, the state’s rural population actually grew 11 percent. Measuring population just by reading city population signs is not accurate. More and more people are living in rural areas, many of them not within city limits.”

Linscheid said that while rural areas lose a high percentage of 20-24 year olds, the number of 30 to 49-year-old moving into rural areas nearly offsets the younger out-migration.

“Many people are moving to small towns after college and starting a career in a bigger city,” Linscheid added. “They don’t always return to their hometowns, but more people move to small towns than you might expect. U.S. Census data backs this up.”

He said research on why people move or stay where they live can be found in data compiled by the Pew Research Center (PRC), a Washington, D.C., nonpartisan, non-advocacy, public opinion polling and demographic research fact tank.

The PRC website features a new interactive data essay exploring national demographic transformation, including a record share of people going gray and how the United States is becoming non-white majority.

Linsheid said that while many rural school districts have declining enrollment, certain classes, often kindergarten and the lower elementary grades, have increased numbers in recent years.

“New people, many of them with college degrees, bring in new ideas, which can be good for small towns for many reasons, including having a good economic impact,” he explained. “People living in small towns that are friendly to newcomers are more likely to stay there. Doing my undergraduate studies at the University of Minnesota, Morris, I noticed the community hosting events for newcomers, introducing them to businesses including real estate agents, industries, organizations like the Lions Club, other newcomers and long-time residents who want to meet them, become good friends and offer them jobs.”

Linsheid said some small towns create web sites to help newcomers find jobs, housing and people with common interests. “Stigmas like people are failures because they never left their hometown or returned to their hometown to live and work just aren’t true,” he explained.

New Ulm Chamber of Commerce employee Terry Sveine weighed in. “We lived away from New Ulm for 13 years before realizing it’s more real living back here.”

The next BBC seminar features area Republican legislators Paul Torkelson and Gary Dahms, at 7:30 a.m., Friday, June 6, at the Brown County REA Auditorium.

For more information, visit www.pewresearch.org/ and www.extension.umn.edu

Fritz Busch can be e-mailed at fbusch@nujournal.com.

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