Key research findings
- The population of residents ages 30 - 49 years old has increased in rural Minnesota counties.
- These newcomers have significant education, skills, connections, spending power and children.
- People migrate to rural communities for 1) a simpler life, 2) safety and security, 3) affordable housing, 4) outdoor recreation and 5) quality schools.
- Communities can work together to attract newcomers and create a quality of life that all residents enjoy.
The changing demographics of rural Minnesota
High school graduates often leave small towns. They go to college. Or get jobs in the city. But census data shows that many come back to rural areas — often in their 30s and 40s. And they come with college degrees, work experience, professional contacts and children.
Some lifetime city dwellers move to rural areas, too. They are eager to make a new life in a rural community. These educated and skilled residents moving or returning to rural areas are a part of the brain gain.
“There are people choosing to move to your town for what you are today and what you will be — not what you were.”
— Ben Winchester
About the rural brain gain
What does this demographic trend mean for communities? View the following video and listen to the podcast playlist to learn more.
Discover more about this trend and find examples of current resident-recruitment initiatives in Minnesota in the resources below.
The brain gain trend
- Interview of Ben Winchester.
- Keynote address from Ben Winchester at the 2019 Reimagining the Rural West workshop.
- Ben Winchester's story and rural brain gain data.
- Migration trends and how communities can attract people who want a small-town lifestyle.
Brain gain in action
- Get Rural! resident recruitment initiative in Minnesota.
- Otter Tail County, Minnesota is writing its rural narrative.
- ReGen is a rural organization that's working to grow their community's social connections.
Partner with us
How can we work with your community? Following are some ways we provide education on rural demographic changes and work with communities to attract new residents.
⇒ Locally-hosted education
Extension teaches rural communities about the brain gain trend. Bring a presentation to your community by contacting an educator in your area.
⇒ Creating recruitment initiatives
Extension helps communities welcome newcomers and create a quality of life enjoyed by all residents. Learn about our Making it Home program and creating a community plan to recruit new neighbors.
The research behind the trend
We are doing research to learn more about rural newcomers. Dive into the following reports and read our findings.
New research: Rewriting the Rural Narrative, chapter nine of the book Rural Areas in Transition — read about the 2019 survey of rural Minnesota movers.
- Regional Recruitment: Strategies to Attract and Retain Newcomers
- Economic Impact of New Residents (overview)
- Economic Impact of New Residents (full report)
- Continuing the trend: The Brain Gain of the Newcomers
- Rural Migration: The Brain Gain of the Newcomers
- The Glass Half Full: A New View of Rural Minnesota
- New Residents Survey Summary of Results
Brain gain in the news
Read recent articles from communities and residents below. Hear in their own words how the brain gain trend impacts their lives.
- Oak Center General Store on its way back to business, an example of migration to rural (AgWeek, 2/13/2023)
- Another look at 'rural brain gain' in the Upper Midwest (Daily Yonder, 1/19/2023)
- Small towns can sell their lifestyle, not just their jobs (St. Cloud Times, 7/3/2022)
- Rural Minnesota pitchman says small-town life sells itself. Millennials and GenXers are buying. (Star Tribune, 6/17/2022)
- Reimagining rural (Montana State University, 5/24/2022)
- In rural Minnesota, a documentary series tells local stories and invites new residents (Daily Yonder, 3/9/2022)
(Pipestone County Star) A series of interviews with residents who are a part of this rural brain gain.
- Eric and Laura Wurster
- Rich and Theresa
- Jason and Erin Gordon
- Brian and Shelley Douty
- Tim and Carmen Paulson
- Thad and Debbie Reinert
- Kyle and Rachel Kuphal
- Scott and Jessie VanderPoel
- Jon and Emily Olson
- Jennifer Martens
- Devyn Mattheis
- Ashley Hoheisel
- Gavin and Jessica Winter
- Michelle Nelson
- Kyle and Sarah Caskey
- Chris and Teresa Agresto
- Ben Denton
- Eric Brockberg
- Sara Evans Priester
- Dr. Gregory Kuehl