Job growth in rural Minnesota at a ten-year high! The rural population steadily increasing! If you saw news articles with these headlines, would you be surprised?
Regional experts shared rural economic trends like these at the latest gathering of the Collegeville Institute Rural Minnesota Fellows. The meeting, which centered on “The Changed and Changing Rural Economy,” was hosted at the Collegeville Institute on July 9-10. The Rural Fellows are comprised of twelve pastors from greater Minnesota and, as a cohort, have met four times since convening in October 2017 to learn about issues that impact their congregations.
Brigid Tuck, Economic Analyst with the University of Minnesota Extension, spoke about the positive developments taking place throughout the rural economy, as well as some of the challenges. (You can read a related article about Tuck’s research that mentions her involvement with the Collegeville Institute Rural Minnesota Fellows here.) Benjamin Winchester, Senior Research Fellow with the Center for Community Vitality (University of Minnesota Extension), addressed what he refers to as the “Rural Rebound,” stating that rural communities are changing, not dying. He especially noted the increase in the number of people with college educations and good incomes who are choosing to move to rural areas.
Other speakers offered comments on the rural economy from the perspective of bankers, realtors, manufacturers and persons who have moved to small towns in Minnesota. Betsy Roder, Executive Director of the New York Mills Cultural Center, shared how that community keeps moving forward through strategic planning and celebrating local culture with projects like the Artist Residency Program and the Great American Think-Off.
On the second day of the meeting, July 10, the Fellows engaged in theological and pastoral reflection on what they had heard from the presenters. They also related this information to their communities and exchanged ideas on how they, as pastors, might connect to the changing economy in their locations.
The next meeting of the Collegeville Institute Rural Minnesota Fellows on October 15-16 will focus on “Immigration as an Opportunity and a Challenge.”