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What can encourage more people to live in rural areas?

It’s well-known that rural areas are losing population to cities, caused by factors like the economy, health care access, infrastructure issues, schools and culture. What can stabilize rural communities and lure more people to live there? The issue calls to mind the 1919 song “How Ya Gonna Keep ‘Em Down on the Farm (After They’ve Seen Paree)”, Tom Still writes for Inside Wisconsin. Still is president of the Wisconsin Technology Council.

One measure of the challenges: nearly 35 percent of rural counties are seeing long-term, significant population loss, according the University of New Hampshire’s Carsey School of Public Policy. Those counties now have a total population of 6.2 million, a third less than they did in 1950. “In all, the New Hampshire researchers reported 746 counties representing 24% of all U.S. counties are losing people and 91% of them are rural. That means just 9% of urban counties are depopulating,” Still writes. But, he notes, “Not all rural counties are losing people. More than 35% of rural counties have grown for decades, led by those near cities or centers for retirement and recreation.”

Better broadband access is a bedrock must for bringing in more young people, since most depend on the internet for jobs, friends, and access to the world in general. Businesses, too, rely on dependable, affordable broadband, Still writes. Bringing in more workers for those new employers will likely require better access to higher education or career training. And, those workers will need somewhere to live, so increasing available housing matters too, Still writes.

“Finally, rural America must combat its image of not being cool,” Still writes. “Many educated young people think they won’t find others like themselves in rural settings, but that’s not necessarily so, based on a survey by the American Enterprise Institute. In fact, the survey found that a smaller percentage of educated rural residents wanted to move elsewhere than the percentage of urban residents who wanted to leave.”