Milan, Minnesota’s population increase linked to rising sea levels

Michael Elias, right, takes a break from gardening with family and friends. They resettled to Milan 13 years ago from Micronesia where rising sea levels threaten their homeland. (MPR photo/Dan Olson)

Milan, Minn. is growing. The tiny town in the western part of the state has seen a reversal of population decline thanks to more than 150 new residents. My former MPR colleague Amber Espinoza documented this trend a few years ago. Families from the South Pacific nation of Micronesia now call Milan home. In the 2000 Census, Milan’s population was 250 and shrinking. Now the popoulation has rebounded to more than 350.

Rising ocean levels coupled with a stagnant economy motivated Michael Elias and many others to move.  Why Milan?

The connection comes from a Milan resident who was a Peace Corps volunteer in Micronesia, stayed in touch, and told them they’d find jobs and good schools if they moved. Micronesia has a Compact of Free Association treaty with the United States so while the islanders aren’t U. S. citizens they can come and go as they like.

I visited Milan to hear how things are going as part of MPR’s new E book, “Fighting For An American Countryside.”  You can hear my Minnesota Sounds and Voices report this afternoon on All Things Considered.

The decades’ long rural population decline in this country continues including the area around Milan.  However there has been a small but measurable increase in people in their 30s and 40s.  When asked in a survey the new residents say they like the slower pace, open space,  safety and good schools.

As in many rural communities, lots of people in Milan cobble together a living with many part time jobs. The picture that emerges from numbers supplied by the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development shows part time work accounted for 38 percent of the job openings listed last year in the region that includes Milan.