(Originally posted July 25, 2005) - from the desk of John Crabtree, Center for Rural Affairs, firstname.lastname@example.org
The Brain Belt
Much has been made of the so-called “brain drain” in rural America. Young people are leaving our rural communities and taking the economic promise they carry with them, that has been the conventional wisdom.
But perhaps something else is happening.
Joel Kotkin, Irvine Fellow at the New America Foundation wrote recently in the journal American Enterprise, “What used to be known as the nation’s Grain Belt is increasingly becoming our Brain Belt…more and more, the country’s competitive edge in practical economics this century will come from previously unlikely places like Sioux Falls, Des Moines and Fargo…Remarkable young people more often stay, or…come home again. And other Americans…are heading into these new comfortable economic hotbeds, bringing with them fresh energies and ideas, and an appreciation for the wholesome values that people in these places hold dear.”
Sixty percent of Nebraska high school students take upper level math courses, more than any other state and 14% above the national average. In North Dakota, 60% of young people are enrolled in college by age 19. And the highest high school graduation rates in the nation are in Iowa, North Dakota, Wisconsin and Nebraska, respectively. Clearly, we have remarkable schools and remarkable young people.
If Kotkin’s premise is also sound, and he presents a strong case, then we must examine ways that rural communities can also find a niche within this trend. Can innovative workers and entrepreneurs provide the kind of high-wage information technology services – programming, systems analysis, etc. – that currently are often sent “offshore”? Can rural entrepreneurs collaborate to provide products and services that one alone might not have the capacity to produce? Can we work together to tackle the challenges rural entrepreneurs face? Can we create a “Heartland Strategy” that includes rural communities? We think so.
John Crabtree, email@example.com
402-687-2103 ext. 1010
Center for Rural Affairs
Values. Worth. Action.