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Farmers: Bringing Them Back Home

USDA finds schools have a heavy influence in peoples' decisions to return to their small hometowns. Credit: Jerry Oster
USDA finds schools have a heavy influence in peoples' decisions to return to their small hometowns. Credit: Jerry Oster
July 27, 2015

WASHINGTON – A recent study released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service focused on towns that are losing population.

It featured several in South Dakota and other states on the northern plains.

Study co-author John Cromartie, a USDA geographer, traveled to small communities and found that the largest reason for folks not returning home was the lack of career opportunities with a good salary. He also found people who had successfully returned to their hometowns.

"We saw people being very creative,” he explains. “Many of them did mention those career sacrifices they had to give up, better income, more chances for advancement in their careers. And they came back and tried new things, such as opening stores or doing some sort of entrepreneurship."

The study also noted that returning residents with children contribute to school systems that might otherwise face consolidation. They are also quite likely to be active as volunteers.

Cromartie says many of these folks sacrificed higher paying jobs to return to family and the rural lifestyle. He says that lifestyle has helped them be successful in their small business ventures.

"There is a lot of people who are used to starting their own businesses, and that sort of entrepreneurial spirit is in these towns, and people took advantage of that," he adds.

Cromartie says the people who return to their small hometowns have a huge impact by adding educated skillsets to the local economy. He says schools play a role in the decision to return home.

"Returnees with families tended to value things like small class size and the ability to know teachers, whereas those who choose not to return saw city schools, big suburban schools as better meeting their kids' needs," he explains.

Cromartie says researchers visited high school reunions as part of their study, gathering information from both those who came back and those who did not.

Jerry Oster, Public News Service - SD