I wrote about the role of broadband in the brain gain wave in 2011 – so it’s fun to see it pop up again. The idea is that rural areas aren’t necessarily losing populaiton. Many young people do leave rural areas for high education and first jobs – but many move back when they have enough expereince and clout to choose where to live and get a job – more than move for a job. Aaron Brown picks up on this in a recent article for Blandin Outposts…
Bell and his co-authors find that high-speed internet connectivity is a cornerstone in the attraction of returning professionals, something Winchester echoes after his research for U of M Extension Service.
“People almost expect to have [broadband internet],” said Winchester. “They’re surprised not to have it. It’s not something people search and hunt for; it’s something they expect to be there.”
Winchester said rural areas where high speed internet is available to the home see significant telecommuting opportunities from all over the country.
But internet alone won’t do the trick, either. Bell said that community collaboration and a responsive higher education system are also required elements for successful 21st Century community.
“What matters is that so many people take it personally and consider it urgent that they create the potential for broad collaboration,” writes Bell and the other authors in “Brain Gain: How Innovative Cities Create Job Growth in an Age of Disruption.” Throughout the book, stories of regrowth in industrial burgs like Stratford, Ontario, or Pittsburgh, join tales of success in smaller cities like Mitchell, South Dakota — home of the Corn Palace and also a modern tech infrastructure that’s generating jobs and growth.
Winchester believes that rural Minnesota needs a narrative that is both more accurate and indicative of the coming age. Winchester warns against the danger of “anecdata,” an informal sociological term referring to the substitution of personal anecdotes for data. We see struggling downtowns and lagging membership in community groups and assume the worst. Winchester said it’s just a matter of how professionals and young families are spending their time nowadays.
“[Younger] people want interest-based groups, not place-based groups,” said Winchester.
That’s why it might be easier to find volunteers for 5K races and bike clubs than for civic groups or chambers of commerce, or why many rural school boards seem to attract more young candidates than city councils.
“Minnesota’s population has gone up 7-10 percent,” said Winchester. “But nonprofit organizations went up 19 percent. Even in areas with less population, nonprofits went up. People are still active socially, they’re just doing very different things than they used to.”
So what does the future hold? Bell points out that there will be winners and losers, and most if has to do with local leadership.