Community Economics professor Neil Linscheid spoke about misconceptions of trends in rural Minnesota
Editor’s note: The following article serves as a preview to this coming weekend’s CURE hosted youth leadership event: “Don’t Worry; We’ve Got This.” Linscheid, who is a resident of Clarkfield and Minnesota Extension educator will be a video-speaker at the event set to run from 5:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. at the American Legion in Granite Falls on Friday, May 2.
Neil Linscheid, a University of Minnesota Extension Educator of Community Economics spoke at a Bridging Brown County (BBC) seminar Friday, April 18 at the Brown County REA auditorium on state population migration trends.
“Rural towns are not dying, but we hear it all the time. I will show you some data that yes, kids are leaving all the time. That’s the rule, not the exception. It is going to happen and probably should happen,” Linscheid explained. “We have a deficit approach to our communities that I don’t think holds true with my experiences and I have information to show that it doesn’t happen everywhere.”
Linscheid went on to say that things are changing in rural Minnesota, but that does not mean small towns are dying.
“Things that are unchanging are dead. Our towns are changing and that’s okay,” he said.
Linscheid explained, that only three small towns dissolved in the past 50 years and since 1970, the state's rural population actually increased by 11 percent.
However, Linscheid cautioned that numbers are not an accurate way to gauge growth and success.
“The worse possible way to gauge success in a community is by looking at the population sign coming into town,” Linscheid said. “It’s the poorest measure of what is really going on and all of the changes happening.”
Data collected from the U.S. Census Bureau showed that between 1995 and 1999, 43 percent of Minnesotans moved. Linscheid added that while rural areas lose a high percentage of 20-24 year olds, the number of 30 to 49-year-olds moving into rural areas nearly offsets the younger out-migration. Linscheid said the question should be, what are small towns doing to market their community as a great place to work, live and play?
New people, many of them with children and college degrees, bring in new ideas, new energy and new perspective, Linscheid noted. Of the focus groups he and his colleagues surveyed, the most important factor of where people choose to settle is based on quality of life, not necessarily because they have a job in the region.
“As a community we need to be careful that we are not saying “come fit into the jobs we have,” rather than saying we will use the newcomers talents and skills,” Linscheid said. “The focus shouldn’t be so heavy on getting people to move to your community, but rather about keeping them here and making your community a place they don’t want to move away from.”
According to Linscheid, the two questions every community should be asking newcomers is: What brought you here and what will keep you here?
Overall, Linscheid said, people’s rating of a community is not influenced in a significant way on whether they grew up in that community or moved from somewhere else–It is linked to how connected they feel with that community and how friendly they feel the community is.
“Communities that host events for newcomers and introduce them to businesses and long-time residents are the kinds of things that keep people in your communities,” Linscheid said. “We are always at risk for someone feeling like they are not connected to our community.”
For more information and to view data collected that was used in this seminar, go to www.extension.umn.edu.