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University of Minnesota Extension

A rural brain gain migration

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.

About the rural brain gain

Learn about this demographic trend and what it means for communities through the below media.


[Video] Learn about the Get Rural! resident recruitment initiative in Minnesota.

[Video] Watch interview of research fellow Ben Winchester on the rural brain gain.

[video] See how Otter Tail County, Minnesota is writing its rural narrative.


Ben Winchester on the rural brain gain.

[podcast] Hear Ben Winchester share his story and rural brain gain data.

[podcast] Hear about migration trends and how communities can attract people who want a small-town lifestyle.

[podcast] Hear about ReGen, a rural organization that's working to grow their community's social connections.

Work with us

We can educate your community on rural demographic changes and how to attract new residents.

Bring our education to your area

Extension teaches rural communities about the brain gain trend. Bring a presentation to your community by contacting an educator in your area.

Create a recruitment plan

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.

Community stories and conversations

“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

Read articles from communities and residents about the brain gain below. Hear in their own words how this trend impacts their lives.

Stories from Minnesota

Between 30 and 49 years old? New initiatives are recruiting you to move ...

(Star Tribune) More than a dozen efforts have popped up to bring in new and young people in Minnesota.

Minnesota’s rural towns are fighting brain drain by rebranding

(apolitical) Features the Upper Minnesota Valley rebranding Get Rural campaign.

Barnsville leveraged proximity to Fargo-Moorhead while keeping a small-town feel

(MinnPost) Read how Barnesville is working to stay vibrant.

Stories from around the nation

Brain gain: Professionals find niche in rural upper Midwest

(Daily Yonder) Stories about newcomers moving to rural Wisconsin and Iowa.

For Young Professionals, Rural Towns Are Doing What Cities Can’t

(Yes) Stories about newcomers moving to rural Arizona.

The struggle to stay

(RappNews) Stories about newcomers moving to rural Virginia.

Conversations about living rural

Middle of everywhere man

(WKMS public radio) Listen as Ben Winchester talks about small-town living.

Flyover 2020: Rural America’s brain gain

(MPR News) Hear Ben Winchester offer data-driven insights to a community in Grand Rapids, Minnesota.

Moving to Greater Minnesota

(PBS Almanac) Watch a profile on a family that made a surprising move to Waseca (Minnesota) from Portland (Oregon).

Why millennials are moving away from large urban centers

(PBS News Hour) Hear Ben Winchester share insight on this trend.

Can you move to rural Minnesota and thrive economically?

(MPR News) Listen to Ben Winchester speak on the rural economy.

What it means to be 'rural by choice'

(MPR News) Listen to the discussion on choosing a rural life.

Changing rural narratives

(MPR News) Hear a conversation on living rural in Grand Rapids, Minnesota.

Contact us

To learn more about this research, contact Ben Winchester.

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