Broadband has been big in 2015 – but it feels like it’s all policy and funding and nuts and bolts. The who, what, when where and how (or how much), so I was pleased to find an article talked about the why.
Furrow – a John Deere publication ran an article on brain gain, the notion that while young people may be leaving rural areas, “older” young people (ages 30-49) are moving to rural areas. The article highlights a few families and communities in rural Minnesota. They spoke to people who were well-educated and were happy to move back home or move to a rural area to bring up kids. It seems like people move for time and community.
Ben Winchester, a leading expert in the idea of brain gain, offer some perspective on the phenomenon…
“We are still losing many of those kids with a high school education,” says Ben Winchester, an Extension rural sociologist with the University of Minnesota. “But we’re gaining people with high education and life experience. This actually isn’t new. It’s been happening since the 1970s.”
The article highlights Lac qui Parle County, and former LqP EDA director Pam Lehmann offers a view on how broadband has opened the door to allowing more families to enjoy the quality of life they seek in rural areas…
Brett and Rose Buer both grew up on farms, left for the city, then returned. Brett started his own business as a machinist and welder, and Rose works from home as a software engineer. She has a competitive advantage that even larger cities don’t offer. Despite their isolation and low population, residents in Lac qui Parle County are in a hotbed of fiber optics with Internet speeds that are blazingly fast. Top upload and download speeds are an incredible 300 megabytes per second. Plans are to be at 1 gigabyte within five years.
“If we don’t have true broadband, we will disappear,” says Lehmann. “The younger generation will not be tolerant of not having that.”
Ongoing story. Winchester says the restructuring of rural areas will continue, but it’s important to remember that headlines of population declines don’t tell the whole story. “Just because you lose people doesn’t mean you lose everyone,” he says. “This has been going on for 30 to 40 years, even though rural communities may have done very little to encourage it.” Winchester asks a question that would make fine discussion fodder in any coffee shop. “What if we actually helped people move here?”