John Deere’s The Furrow magazine recently highlighted Ben Winchster’s concept of the brain gain – the idea that while young people might leave their rural communities, slightly order folks (ages 30-49) return. LqP is featured!
One place representing the demographic shift is Minnesota’s Lac qui Parle County. The entire county has only 7,000 people; the county seat, Madison, just 1,500. Pam Lehmann, the county’s economic development director, says, “It’s not just rural. It’s extremely rural.” Residents here are about three hours from any metropolitan area, and though new residents say that has its challenges — healthcare and childcare are two most mentioned — the advantages are overwhelming: Good schools. Neighbors who know you. Security. Peace and quiet. Nature and beauty.
Those 30- 49-year-olds moving are not coming for jobs. They’re coming for quality of life, says Karla Perkins. She grew up here on a farm, went off with to the big city with her husband, Jerrad, and knows that was the right thing to do. “You have to go away to get some experience,” she says. “I don’t think you appreciate it until you’re gone.” After years in the city, they came back. “We were just sick of it,” says Karla, who used to drive 45 minutes in traffic to get to work. “But here, if I have a long drive, think of what I have. It’s all country. It’s all beautiful. It’s all enjoyable.”
In the city, you’re lucky to know your neighbor. In the country, you know everyone. And, everyone knows you. Karla relearned the advantage of that shortly after the couple moved back and Jerrad was called up through the National Guard to serve in Iraq. Karla was pregnant with twins. “He was gone and I was alone,” she says. “I honestly don’t know how we would have made it. Everyone here knows your situation, and they’re looking out for you.”
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.”