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Making it home in Spring Valley

The third-grade class at Kingsland Elementary in Spring Valley, Minn., has weighed in about why their town is a good place to live. Big back yards top their list, along with wide open spaces, and peace and quiet.

Spring Valley’s new Downtown Alliance knows it has an asset many towns of 2,500 envy—a full service community.  

“You can get everything you need here,” says Cathy Enerson, community and business development specialist for the town. “You can age in place, from education through senior living. It’s walkable to stores, restaurants, the florist, physical therapy, and a chiropractor. There is a vibrant downtown. And if you work in Rochester, public transportation can get you there.”

Sound appealing? Then Spring Valley is looking for you. They are also looking to attract some of the 45,000 new workers southeast Minnesota will need before 2033, many of whom will have jobs in nearby Rochester, with its growing technology sector and world-class Mayo Medical Center.

“We’ve learned that only half of people who come to work in Rochester will end up living there,” says Enerson. “We believe Spring Valley can be an alternative.”

Regional connections

Southeast Minnesota is taking an all-hands-on-deck approach to the region’s workforce shortage. University of Minnesota Extension supports those efforts in many ways, including managing Making it Home initiatives in regional small towns like Spring Valley.

“Southeast Minnesota realizes economic ripples move throughout a region,” says Bruce Schwartau, a Kasson resident who leads Extension’s community economics programs. “The region is working together to address issues such as transit, housing and being a welcoming place.”

The initiatives include partners from Dodge, Freeborn, Goodhue, Houston, Mower, Steele, Wabasha, Winona, and Fillmore County. Spring Valley in Fillmore County has the largest commercial district.  

“We keep our thumb on the pulse of these regional efforts,” says Enerson. “But we know we’ll have to stand out as our own community within those marketing efforts.” That’s where Extension’s Making it Home initiative is helping them out.

Making it home
Young professionals are finding welcoming homes in vibrant rural communities where they can raise families and remain through retirement.

Making it home

Extension Community Vitality educators Jennifer Hawkins and Beth Kallestad guided Spring Valley through the Making it Home program, hosting local discussions to create a community-wide vision for attracting new residents.  

“We trained six terrific facilitators for local study circles,” says Hawkins. “Those facilitators brought together school children, retirees, teachers, newcomers and others to talk about what’s great about Spring Valley, and how those assets can be leveraged to attract more residents.”

After a final action forum, the community got to work. They’re creating a dynamic website featuring Spring Valley’s assets and amenities. The site will give newcomers all the information they need when they move. The new Downtown Alliance is mobilizing to promote downtown as a destination. The town is also brainstorming ideas for a downtown lot that was left empty after a fire years ago.

The middle of everywhere

Ben Winchester, Extension rural sociologist, has been challenging community leaders throughout Minnesota to consider what newcomers want.

Winchester’s work inspired Extension to create the Making it Home program, which has borrowed key program components from successful programs in other states. He applauds efforts to attract residents to an entire region. “People’s playgrounds are fairly large,” he says. “There’s a 45-mile radius around a rural person’s home. They shop in one place. Work in another. They play in another. I call it the middle of everywhere. Rural people live in the middle of everywhere.”

“I call it the middle of everywhere. Rural people live in the middle of everywhere.”

—Ben Winchester, Extension rural sociologist

Jennifer Hawkins
Jennifer Hawkins (center) with Spring Valley leaders Jerry Wolfe and Cathy Enerson. Extension helps community leaders consider all perspectives as they choose their future.

As Spring Valley moves through their list of things to do, they will continue to get Extension’s support. They will also stay connected to what’s happening in the rest of the region. Still, they know they need to invest in their own town. “We’re modest in the Midwest. And it can be expensive to share the word,” says Enerson. “But our region is moving forward, and we want to stay on that train.”  


How does it work?

  • A kickoff event gets the process started
  • Extension trains local facilitators to lead study circles
  • Study circle groups meet four times to ask critical questions and generate ideas for community action
  • An action forum lets the whole community vote for their favorite ideas
  • The town works together to welcome newcomers

Minnesota is welcoming newcomers

Making it home communities

Extension research about the rural “brain gain” has inspired resident recruitment throughout the state. While 18- to 30-year-olds leave to find jobs and get an education, people aged 30 – 49 frequently move into rural areas. Extension is engaged with these initiatives to learn how efforts to attract and retain newcomers can succeed.

Want to learn more?

You may be interested in learning more about Making it Home and other rural brain gain initiatives.


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