“You don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone” is more than lyrics to a popular song that has topped the charts since 1970. It’s also become the mantra of many young professionals, who are leaving urban areas for an increased quality of life in rural communities.
A rural renaissance has been happening since the 1970s, says Ben Winchester, a research fellow for the University of Minnesota Extension, Center for Community Vitality. One of his current projects involves documenting newcomers, or new rural residents who range in age from 30-45 years old and are either returning to their rural roots or moving to rural areas for the first time.
Many newcomers are basing their decisions on lifestyle and quality of life, says Winchester. One of the most interesting findings of his research is that people are not basing their decisions to move to rural areas based solely on job opportunities. Many newcomers are providing a rural brain gain. They’re bring high skill sets, such as college degrees and master’s degrees, and have a career path in place with outside connections.
In fact, many newcomers are self-employed. One in four owns a small business, and those who own businesses are heavily invested in their communities.
“It makes me wonder what the state of our rural economy would be if these newcomers had not been coming back these past 30 years,” says Winchester in an article posted by fedgazette.
Instead of spending so much time focusing on the brain drain of the younger residents who leave the state, Winchester is challenging rural communities to focus on attracting – and then retaining – the 30- to 45-year-olds who are migrating to rural areas.
Like the newcomers described by Winchester, my husband and I both moved to urban areas upon college graduation and then returned to our rural roots when our children were toddlers. After living in Kansas City and then Des Moines for a decade, I personally could never find paradise surrounded by pavement. Give me my apple trees, singing birds and buzzing bees. Give me rolling acres of waving grains and a horizon filled with sunsets instead of skyscrapers. Give me Rural America!