Case Study, Omro: Gaining and Maintaining Young Adults in Wisconsin Communities
Researchers at UWEX/UW Madison conducted research across the state on community assets that retain and attract young adults, in the 20-39 age category. The City of Omro was selected as one of the communities which has successfully appealed to this demographic. Through an interview process of community members, information and insight was gathered, in the following link you will find the results from the case study https://apl.wisc.edu/shared/youngadults/omro
The background conversation: Many rural communities are concerned about losing young people (Carr and Kefalas, 2010, Brown and Schafft, 2011). As intelligent and motivated youth leave—creating the oft-labeled brain-drain—a community has less ability to address its social and economic needs (Artz and Yu 2011), weakened social capital (Wilson 1996, Barnett 2006), and loses agricultural lands as family farmland gets sold to agri-business or non-agricultural uses when the children do not carry on the farming tradition (Carr and Keflas 2009; 2010; Kuminoff, Sokolow and Sumner, 2001; Program on Agricultural Technology Studies, 2004). Young adult population loss raises the costs for individuals of infrastructure such as schools, public services and recreational opportunities (Artz and Yu 2011), affecting the quality of life for the remaining residents.
Rural communities across Wisconsin are seeing aging populations, school closings, declining downtowns, and other signs that youth out-migration and brain-drain are real issues (Johnson et al., 2005; grow, 2010; Swedien, 2012; Mills, 2014). Those communities that lose too much of their youth population are in danger of becoming unsustainable, threatening the rural backbone for regional family farming and family resort communities.
But there is variation and complexity in rural age demographic transition and the related "brain drain" phenomena. For instance, rural areas furthest from metropolitan centers may fare worse in terms of brain drain (Artz, 2003). Many rural communities may lose young people during their college years, but gain them back as young adults marry and begin raising children (Winchester, 2012). Quality of life amenities such as high-speed Internet service may also attract young people (Artz, 2003). Loss of youth and brain drain are also not necessarily the same thing. Marginalized youth may find themselves stuck in place with relatively limited access to economic and civic community life (Carr and Keflas, 2009). They contribute to a statistical youth gain but less to brain gain in the sense of a formally educated and credentialed population. Likewise, expensive amenity rich rural areas may attract retirees, producing a statistical brain gain but proportional youth decline.