What will it take to get young people to help grow rural Minnesota?

My MPR colleague Mike Caputo pulled together a neat virtual forum Friday asking if rural Minnesota was losing its best and brightest young people.

To build on that conversation, here’s a map with a bunch of responses we received from sources in MPR’s Public Insight Network on the issue of rural Minnesota, retaining and attracting young people and what can/should be done.

This is one of those issues where lots of voices are needed. So post below or click here to add your voice.

One of the interesting things to me is that some of Minnesota’s rural areas boast the lowest unemployment rates in the state.


Counties in southwest Minnesota especially have stayed really resilient in the recession, with jobless rates consistently better than the state or the nation.

“Let’s make it clear that it’s not all gloom and doom in rural America,” said Amy Hoglin, economic development director in Murray County in the southwest.

“We need to think about the messages that we’re sending to young people. Yes, it’s important for them to leave and get additional education and/or experience the world, but we’re not encouraging them to come back. We do have some good career options here and those who are accustomed to and appreciate small town living can have a great life here!

In other parts of Minnesota, however, it’s a different story.

Robyn Bertelsen of Ely told us her job as food service director for the local public schools was eliminated recently “due to budget constraints fueled by declining enrollment.”

Ely’s a tourist destination but “does not provide long term living wage jobs for most,” shae said. “Not only have I watched the best and brightest leave our town for ‘real opportunity’, I have had to encourage my own daughter to ‘get outta dodge’ to pursue her goals.”

Tell us what you’re seeing.

BONUS INFO: MPR blogger Bob Collins posted his take on the rural issue, asking, “Why live in rural Minnesota?”

  • John Olson

    A generation ago, many youth at that time up and left their rural community to settle elsewhere. The answer to the question of “why” is one word:


    I attended the U of M in the late ’70s and early 80’s–the last time our economy was in a major funk. Almost to a person, many of my classmates from that era ended up settling here in the metro because there was nothing for them to go back home to.

    We now have our own families and have moved on–and away. Had we been able to go back to a job at that time, things may have worked out differently.

    If the jobs are not there to go back home to, the long-term health of many rural communities has to be questioned.

  • Paul Tosto / MinnEcon

    John, thanks. Great points. The discussion tends to get framed as though people who grew up in small towns have an absolute moral obligation to return immediately after college. But what are you supposed to do if the opportunities aren’t there?

    I’ve moved a bunch of times for work and life and I’m living a long way from where I grew up.