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Minnesota Extension examines population trends

GRANITE FALLS — Educators from the University of Minnesota Extension Service are hoping to find some silver linings with rural population trends in an upcoming survey report.

Neil Linscheid, one of Extension’s regional community economics educators, made a presentation last week to the Yellow Medicine County Board. He highlighted demographic trends that will be further explored when survey findings are compiled.

He said most of rural Minnesota is seeing a population decline, but that it involves more dynamics than just people leaving those regions. To a certain extent, others have been moving in to take their place.

“The migration into the region is an important factor,” Linscheid said. “If it was just a situation of people moving out, the decline would be much greater.”

He said it’s standard in most communities for people ages 18-24 to move to new locations for college or a career opportunity. Those who move into rural counties usually fall into an age of between 30 and 55.

He said marketing and public outreach are both important for making the most of opportunities to attract new residents.

With marketing, a first look at a particular community will often be a web site. Viewers are likely to have favorable reactions if the site has a professional quality appearance and information that’s easily understood.

He said likely recommendations from the survey will include going beyond websites to use regional marketing and direct community-based outreach to new residents.

“A job is often what brings someone new into a region,” Linscheid said. “They’ll often look regionally when they choose a community in which to live. More than one town can benefit from that.”

He said individual communities have seen benefits to having Chamber of Commerce or city personnel who are ready to answer questions and provide information to newcomers.

At the same time, it can prove helpful to have newcomers clubs or community ambassador activities handled by civic groups.

“Creating connections always has benefits,” he said. “It’s an investment because it improves the chances that new people will become involved. Significant amounts of money get spent to fill particular job openings. It’s good to try to be sure that those dollars don’t go to waste.”

County officials who heard the presentation said they look ahead to the final survey report, which should further indicate ways of promoting local communities.

“If we have a new neighbor, our first question shouldn’t be why they decided to move here,” said Yellow Medicine County Commissioner Gary Johnson. “We should find out what they look for in a community, and let them know about things we have to offer.”

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