MASON CITY — A senior research fellow for the University of Minnesota Extension Center for Community Vitality is telling north-central Iowa economic development officials today about development in rural communities.
Benjamin Winchester says in many ways rural areas get a bad rap when it comes to economic development, as detailed in his report entitled “Rewriting the Rural Narrative”. “The key message is here is that, kind of the narrative we used to describe our small towns, ultimately they shoot ourselves in the foot. We talk about what we used to have, or what we should have had, or what we could have had, and yes things have changed, but that does not mean in our small towns took a right turn into the ditch. In many ways, our small towns are still here, they’re surviving, and in many ways thriving. We’ve got a diverse economy, we’ve got really a thriving nonprofit sector, so we’ve got the number of groups almost astound you, the number groups of in these small counties we’ve got go up by 10 to 15%.”
Winchester says more people are moving into and not away from rural areas. “We call that the ‘Brain Gain’. There are people in their thirties, forties, and fifties, moving into just about every rural county, not just in Iowa but across the United States. These folks are bringing with them their education, their skills, their kids and helping in many ways to reinvigorate our rural communities.”
Winchester says many Midwesterners use a population number incorrectly as a barometer for a community’s success. “What I have found out really is that we cannot be infatuated with total population. Ultimately some of the trends point away from even growing our population for a number of years, especially as our seniors age, and we had no longer have kids in her household. I call this the ‘Demographic Destiny’, there are some things we cannot control.”
Winchester is the guest speaker at the annual meeting of the North Iowa Corridor Economic Development Corporation today in Mason City. You can see a copy of his presentation by clicking here