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A rural brain gain

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News Worthington,Minnesota 56187 http://www.dglobe.com/sites/all/themes/dglobe_theme/images/social_default_image.png
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A rural brain gain
Worthington Minnesota 300 11th Street / P.O. Box 639 56187

WORTHINGTON -- A University of Minnesota Extension study released Wednesday shows rural Minnesota is continuing to attract residents in the 30 to 49 age group, according to a study of the U.S. Census data.

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The study, authored by rural sociologist Ben Winchester, counters headlines claiming a "brain drain" and the supposed demise of rural America when 18- to 25-year-olds leave 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," said Winchester in a U of M 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, or those with core urban populations of 10,000 to 49,999, are taking on metropolitan profiles -- with middle-aged Minnesotans 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 between the ages of 18 and 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. This 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 of M report, the southwestern portion of Minnesota and the western border counties experienced overall population loss, and there is considerable population growth surrounding the core metropopulation counties, counties that connect Rochester to the south and northwest to St. Cloud 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.

According to data taken from the 2010 U.S. Census, Nobles County showed a loss of 2.3 percent in ages 10 to 14, a gain of .1 percent in 15 to 19 and a loss of 11.6 percent in 20 to 24. There was a loss of 11.9 percent in the 25 to 29 age group. A gain of 8.9 percent was shown in ages 30 to 34, a gain of 2.1 percent in 35 to 39 and a gain of .9 percent in 40 to 44.

Cottonwood County showed a gain of 9.2 percent in ages 10 to 14, a loss of 4 percent in 15 to 19 and a loss of 44.5 percent in 20 to 24. There was a loss of 37.2 percent in the 25 to 29 age group. A gain of 14.9 percent was shown in ages 30 to 34, a gain of 13.4 percent in 35 to 39 and a gain of 4 percent in 40 to 44.

Jackson County showed a gain of 12.6 percent in ages 10 to 14, a loss of 6.7 percent in 15 to 19 and a loss of 47 percent in 20 to 24. There was a loss of 39.7 percent in the 25 to 29 age group. A gain of 9.6 percent was shown in ages 30 to 34, a gain of 2 percent in 35 to 39 and a gain of 1.7 percent in 40 to 44.

Murray County showed a gain of 12.2 percent in ages 10 to 14, a loss of 13.1 percent in 15 to 19 and a loss of 51.7 percent in 20 to 24. There was a loss of 41 percent in the 25 to 29 age group. A gain of 24.7 percent was shown in ages 30 to 34, a loss of .3 percent in 35 to 39 and a gain of 7.3 percent in 40 to 44.

Pipestone County showed a gain of 12.1 percent in ages 10 to 14, a loss of 4.6 percent in 15 to 19 and a loss of 43.6 percent in 20 to 24. There was a loss of 33.1 percent in the 25 to 29 age group. A gain of 13 percent was shown in ages 30 to 34, a gain of 13.1 percent in 35 to 39 and a gain of 1.5 percent in 40 to 44.

Rock County showed a gain of 16.4 percent in ages 10 to 14, a loss of 6.4 percent in 15 to 19 and a loss of 49.9 percent in 20 to 24. There was a loss of 35.2 percent in the 25 to 29 age group. A gain of 25.3 percent was shown in ages 30 to 34, a gain of 15.1 percent in 35 to 39 and a gain of 4.6 percent in 40 to 44.

The population percent of the group of 50- to 54-year-olds ranged from a loss of 7.9 percent in Jackson County to a gain of 4.4 percent in Murray County.

"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."

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