Saturday, July 23, 2011

Ironic Brain Gain

I've blogged about Ben Winchester's research on a few occasions. There is now a dedicated website for the study of rural brain gain. Even the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis has taken an interest in the trend:

fedgazette: And that means to quit worrying about the kids leaving home.

Winchester: That's right. Let them go. I'm fine with losing the kids. The point is that we have people choosing to move back. Those are the people we should be focusing on—the ones who want to move to the small towns.

Okay, I'm cherry-picking the interview. Winchester makes more than a few comments that run counter to the narrative I tout. Anyone interested in communities facing acute demographic challenges should check out the findings. The lessons learned would benefit both rural and nonrural (i.e. metro) counties.

For example, from the same interview with the Fed Gazette:

Winchester: Generally, people fall into two categories. One is the returners. These are people who grew up in rural areas and want to get back to that lifestyle. Returners make up about 35 percent to 45 percent of the newcomers. Most of the rest have had very little contact with the rural area where they choose to live. They may have visited that area as a youth or read an article about it or seen something online. It's very idiosyncratic.

Most of the in-migration has to do with some sort of familiarity with the community. You go where you know. But there is a big gap between successful place branding and intimate knowledge of geography. I think social media could pick up the slack. I spend a lot of my time tilting at Rust Belt mesofacts because I believe doing so can drive migration. I contend that Winchester's work rationalizes that effort, which doesn't entail an expensive national campaign that won't make any difference.

Of course, those in place marketing know a great deal about using social media. They log into forums such as to set the record straight in those threads full of smack and haters. How does one go about measuring the success of such strategies and tactics?

In devising a return migration strategy for Cleveland, I meditated on that question. A good place to start is with demographic studies. What is going on will likely surprise you.

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