Brain Gain in Lac qui Parle County

 

The Daily Yonder recently featured Ben Winchester and the idea of the Brain Gain featuring towns like ours in LqP County…

Once upon a time, the story goes, rural America thrived, a land of golden fields dotted with wholesome communities of God-fearing farmers. Then the kids — especially the bright ones — left for the city. 

The school closed, and so did the hardware store and one of the churches, and now there’s just a post office and a convenience store where there was once a thriving business district. The post office is scheduled for closure. 

That’s the narrative told by too many rural commentators, casual and otherwise. It’s a narrative that University of Minnesota Extension researcher and rural cheerleader Ben Winchester forcefully opposes. 

“The stereotype is that there isn’t anybody left in rural America, and those that are, they’re all on opioids,” he said. “We need to re-write the rural narrative.” 

Winchester said that doom-and-gloom narratives aren’t justified. More people live in rural America now than did a generation ago, even if they make up a smaller piece of the American pie. 

“People don’t move to your town for pity,” Winchester said. “They move for opportunities. Nobody cares that you lost the hardware store 30 years ago… And we’re not all farmers. We haven’t all been farmers in 100 years.”  

Winchester looked at Census data to show that the so-called rural “brain drain” popularized in the 2009 book “Hollowing Out the Middle” is being countered by “brain gain.” Rural communities may be losing high school graduates, but they’re gaining residents with more skills and education, according to studies in Minnesota and Nebraska. In Minnesota, Winchester found that most rural Minnesota counties have gained 30- to 49-year-olds, early- to mid-career Minnesotans with significant resources and connections. 

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