Humphrey School News

Humphrey School Partnering on Research to Help Greater Minnesota

June 19, 2017
Main Street in a small Minnesota town

The Humphrey School of Public Affairs is partnering with University of Minnesota Extension on a three-year study to examine economic and population trends in rural Minnesota, and to help communities attract more residents.

Humphrey School Associate Professor Ryan Allen is co-leading the research project with Extension’s Center for Community Vitality. The study is funded by a $500,000 grant from the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

Many communities in rural Minnesota are facing economic challenges as their populations decline. As baby boomers retire from the workforce, businesses are struggling to find enough new workers to replace them. At the same time, however, researchers are noticing an influx of adults 30 to 49 years old moving into rural communities—a trend they call a “brain gain.”

“This research seeks to understand why people move to rural areas in Minnesota,” said Allen. “What drives their interest in living in a rural part of the state, and how can rural areas leverage this interest to encourage others to move there?”

Allen said the study will also look at how well different groups of new residents are integrated into these communities, noting that many newcomers to rural Minnesota are immigrants. 

A report Allen authored earlier this year determined that attracting more immigrants is the key to growing Minnesota's labor force in the future.

“Often, an influx of immigrants to a community will create a financial strain on government services like education. And we sometimes observe racist and xenophobic attitudes articulated by longtime residents,” said Allen. “So we need to understand better how to create welcoming communities that are able to transform into multicultural centers, while maintaining community cohesion.”

The researchers will use surveys, focus groups, and demographic analysis to gather information from community leaders, local organizations, newcomers, and longtime residents.

“We need to determine how to ask the right questions to address populations that are difficult to access, particularly Latino immigrants,” said Humphrey School Assistant Professor Fernando Burga, who will play a key role in designing the research methods.  

Researchers say Humphrey School faculty’s expertise in analyzing research data, combined with Extension’s longstanding reputation and community connections, is key to the partnership.

“Extension is a trusted institution in rural Minnesota and its staff have a deep knowledge of these communities,” said Allen. “So our research team brings together those long-standing relationships with the analytic rigor necessary to help make sense of some of the trends we’re observing.”

The research project is expected to be completed in March 2020. 

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