This depopulation of rural areas, coupled in many cases with economic declines, has implications for urban and rural residents alike. State economists have warned that if too many people, particularly young workers, flee less-populated towns and counties it could create a downward spiral that leaves the counties unable to support businesses and fund public services. Urban residents are affected as rural refugees seek jobs and housing in larger cities. Meanwhile, those left in rural Oregon need more taxpayer-funded services from the state.
Other state governments have taken a more proactive approach than Oregon to try to stabilize rural areas.
South Dakota, Idaho and Wyoming are among rural states that have launched marketing programs to try to convince young people to return. Arkansas has a Department of Rural Services, which oversees programs dedicated to everything from rural economic development to rural health.
Minnesota launched the Intelligent Rural Communities Initiative in 2009 with the goal of helping rural areas keep pace technologically and economically in an increasingly technology-driven economy. In 2012, the University of Nebraska created the Rural Futures Institute with similar goals. North Carolina, Illinois, Indiana, Mississippi and South Carolina are collaborating on the Rural Innovative Schools initiative.
Those are just a few of the more ambitious efforts across the country. It’s possible that none of the initiatives will significantly alter the demographic trajectory of rural areas. But, at the least, those states are more likely to improve the living conditions of current rural residents than states, like Oregon, whose governments have been reluctant to commit significant time and resources to non-urban areas.