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Sociologist: Rural communities need to be more welcoming to new residents

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Dave Thompson, Prairie Public
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U-MN Extension sociologist Ben Winchester speaking to ND Small Organized Schools conference

A rural sociologist who is with the University of Minnesota Extension Center for Community Vitality says rural communities should be more welcoming to a younger generation that’s interested in moving to those areas.

Ben Winchester of St. Cloud said people in their 30s and 40s are now moving into rural communities.

"They might have their college degree, or they might have been in the military, or they their spouse or partner want to move out of the cities, and want to be in a smaller place," Winchester said in an interview. "They want a slower pace, they want safety and security, they want lower-priced homes."

Winchester said smaller towns are great places for families to start, or to take chances in starting a new business.

"Your transaction costs are fairly low in a small town," Winchester said.

But Winchester said it will take a mind-set change – so that people already in those smaller communities don’t have a “negative narrative.”

"If your narrative is negative, and based upon things that happened 60-70 years ago, why would people want to move in?" Winchester said. "Nobody wants to move to a dying town."

Winchester said people are moving to small towns for what they are today, and what they will be tomorrow. He said people in those towns should reach out to new residents — invite them to community events, and get them involved.

"Welcome Wagons are a thing of the past," Winchester said.

Winchester was the keynote speaker at a North Dakota Small Organized Schools conference, held at the state Capitol Wednesday.

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