The research of Ben Winchester
In working to change the narrative about rural Minnesota, the Center for Small Towns uses data gleaned from the research of Ben Winchester, a demographer with University of Minnesota Extension, a closely linked agency. Here are two key categories from Winchester’s findings:
The ‘brain gain’: In 2009, Winchester released an attention-grabbing report that showed a net gain, between the years 1990 and 2000, of residents 30 to 49 years old in 61 of Minnesota's 67 rural counties. In other words, more people in that age range lived in those counties in 2000 than lived there in 1990, a trend that helped to offset losses of high school graduates. An updated report from 2012 showed a similar trend between the years 2000 and 2010. Surveys and focus groups pointed to the following top reasons for the trend: a desire for a simpler life; safety and security; affordable housing; outdoor recreation; and, for parents with children, quality schools. More information can be found here: The Brain Gain.
Social capital: Winchester has also pulled together data that showed an increase in the number of nonprofit organizations in rural Minnesota in the first decade of the 21st century, a sign of healthy “social capital.” While the population of the most rural counties decreased by five percent between 2000 and 2010, for instance, the number of nonprofits in those counties increased by 14 percent. Some of the newer nonprofits include everything from locally grown food groups to trail maintenance clubs.
Source: Ben Winchester, University of Minnesota Extension Center for Community Vitality