Some rural Minnesota areas experiencing a ‘brain gain’
Justine Wettschreck, Worthington Daily Globe (Pioneer Press), May 17, 2012 –
Rural Minnesota is continuing to attract residents in the 30-to-49 age group, according to a University of Minnesota Extension study of U.S. Census data.
The study, authored by rural sociologist Ben Winchester and released Wednesday, May 16, counters headlines claiming a “brain drain” and the supposed demise of rural America with 18- to 25-year-olds leaving for bigger cities. The rural immigration of 30- to 49-year-olds who bring educational achievements and establish earning power actually creates a “brain gain,” Winchester stated.
The notion builds on research he first published in 2009, examining 1990 and 2000 Census data.
“It’s the rule that young people move to pursue educational and career goals, not the exception,” Winchester said in a U statement. “Instead of labeling that loss as ‘doom and gloom’ for rural (areas), I’ve examined the population trends more deeply.”
In the new report, “Continuing the Trend: The Brain Gain of the Newcomers,” Winchester updates Minnesota’s population shifts as captured by the 2010 census and provides an examination of the trend at the national level.
One new finding reveals that Greater Minnesota’s micropolitan counties — those with core urban populations of 10,000 to 49,999 — are taking on metropolitan profiles, with middle-aged residents leaving for less densely populated areas.
The pattern is most prevalent in the southwest part of the state, around cities such as Willmar (Kandiyohi County), Marshall (Lyon County) and Mankato (Blue Earth County), according to Winchester.
While people ages 18 to 25 continue to leave their home communities to attend college and expand their horizons, almost all of the rural counties experienced gains in the 30-to-49 age group.
“We see that those migrating to rural areas are in the early/mid-career, they bring significant education, skills and connections to people and resources in other areas,” the report states.
A survey distributed by a group of economic development leaders in central Minnesota found top reasons for migration to rural areas included a desire for a simpler life, safety and security, affordable housing and outdoor recreation. For those with children, locating a quality school was cited. Surprisingly, jobs and employment were not listed as a top 10 reason.
Results of the survey showed 75 percent of responders moved with a spouse, 51 percent with children and 36 percent had held a leadership role in their former community, church, school, civic or other organization. Their leadership involvement rose to 60 percent in their new community. In their previous community, 62 percent donated money to local causes, which rose to 81 percent in their new community.
A study of 99 newcomer households in west-central Minnesota showed that the average newcomer household contributed $92,000 in economic activity to the region in 2009 and 2010.
According to the U report, southwestern Minnesota and the western border counties experienced overall population loss, while there was considerable population growth surrounding the core metropopulation counties, those that connect Rochester in the south and St. Cloud in the northwest along I-94.
“There is overall growth in micropolitan communities such as Worthington and Marshall to the southwest, and in the recreational areas of north-central Minnesota,” the report states.
“It would be wrong to paint a glowing picture of rural challenges,” the report summary states. “However, as communities and community leaders have reviewed the cohort analysis of demographic shifts, they have responded. … While there is no ‘silver bullet’ in rural development, acknowledging the reality of the brain gain allows rural places to focus on strengths and opportunities, which is the work of any community that is striving for a better future.”