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WI Student to Speak at Midwest Rural Assembly

August 12, 2010

MADISON, Wis. - Rural leaders from Wisconsin and throughout the Midwest are meeting next week to discuss the future of rural economies. Central to the discussions will be the issue of attracting and retaining youth in rural communities. One speaker, UW-Madison senior John Holzhauer, wants to be a rural physician.

Another speaker, Jonathan Beutler of Renewing the Countryside, says the exodus of young people has affected the vitality of rural economies, which has resulted in an aging workforce.

"The average farmer in this country is now approximately 60 years old. It's really critical that we find effective ways to transition farmlands to the new generation."

In order to make that transition work, Beutler says rural communities need to find ways to help young people earn a real living at it.

While the growing interest in sustainable farming is a key area of opportunity for youth and for rural communities, he says it's equally important to foster a sense of community because the feeling of isolation is one of the most common challenges heard from young people who have moved back to rural communities.

"I think if we want to attract young people back to rural communities, we need to really reinvent them as a place that is friendly to young people and will make young people feel at home."

He says some of the more successful rural communities have supported youthful entrepreneurs who opened coffee shops, and developed local arts and cultural opportunities that attract other youth.

Passion for sustainability and entrepreneurship creates another opportunity for rural economies in the growth of green jobs and green industry, and one critical step toward this is an educated workforce, says Teresa Kittridge, executive director of Minnesota Renewable Marketplace.

"What we've really tried hard in Minnesota is to have our education institutions really listen to industry about what their needs are for skills to support these new businesses and new ventures in renewable energy."

Kittridge says keeping wealth local is also another huge factor in the future economic stability of rural America.

"A good example is owning the wind farms that are built in rural America. To be able to own the assets and to be able to then reinvest in the communities is a big piece of keeping wealth local."

The Midwest Rural Assembly is being held in South Sioux City, Neb. Registration is open until the event begins on Monday, Aug. 16. More information is available at

Tim Morrissey, Public News Service - WI