Small cities’ “stickiness,” plus return migration’s impact on rural America

Must read for Ashtabula County!

Source: International Economic Development Council

How we can we better understand the economic dynamism of small cities (MSAs with 50,000-500,000 residents)? The Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta is engaged in ongoing research to better understand where and to what extent small cities are becoming “stickier” – that is, “pulling in residents and businesses from surrounding rural areas and newcomers from more urban areas.” The first article sets the stage by exploring population trends; a second article combines metrics of migration, commuting, new firm creation, and population densification into a raw index score for the stickiness of small towns. The top 10 cities on the small town stickiness index are:

  1. Anchorage, AK
  2. Gulfport-Biloxi, MS
  3. Farmington, NM
  4. Morgantown, WV
  5. Lake Charles, LA
  6. Odessa, TX
  7. Bismarck, ND
  8. Naples, FL
  9. Saginaw, MI
  10. Williamsport, PA

A somewhat related piece from the USDA’s Economic Research Service examines out-migration versus return migration in rural communities. Its key finding: “Stemming rural population loss and spurring economic development may depend less on retaining young adults after high school than on attracting them back as they settle down to start careers and raise children.” More highlights of the research:

  • Continued population loss in rural communities is caused as much by low in-migration as by high out-migration; in remote rural communities lacking natural amenities, return migrants make up a large share of total in-migration.
  • Return migrants potentially play a critical role in rural areas in slowing population loss, rejuvenating the population base, generating jobs, and increasing human, social, and financial capital.
  • Family ties, increased opportunities for outdoor recreation for the whole family, and fuller participation in school sports for their children were often mentioned as motivating factors for moving back to rural America.
  • Low wages and career limitations were cited as primary reasons for not returning home.


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