Finding a Home, Job & Happiness in a Small Town
In spite of the widely held belief that millennials are fleeing rural America, the situation isn’t as dire as some might think. Thirty-somethings are actually returning to small towns in large numbers. When college professors from the Universities of Minnesota and Nebraska conducted population studies on a number of small towns in their regions, they discovered that “brain drain” – when the educated, working population leaves an area – occurred most frequently in rural areas with 18- to 25-year-olds. Thirty-somethings and 40-somethings tend to come back to find jobs or start businesses in their hometowns, resulting in a “brain gain.”
Some of these people return to live in the same area as their aging parents, either to provide caregiving support or to get help of their own as they raise families. Others simply seek a better life in a small town. Newcomers, ages 30 to 44, moving to rural Nebraska reported that they wanted a simpler pace of life, safety and security, and low housing costs.
“Rural America is GROWING,” Rick Skorupski said, commenting on trends discussed at the Symposium for Small Towns event held at the University of Minnesota – Morris. “I was told in the seminar that this trend is happening all over the rural Midwest. We are gaining not only in population, but in quality population.”
Meanwhile, according to a NewGeography.com article, “14 percent of millennials also plan to move to rural environments.” Definitely not the majority, but not an insignificant number, either.
With high quality schools, low crime rates, large chunks of property, a lower cost of living, and yes, even job opportunities, life in some of the nation’s best rural areas might be exactly what you’re looking for. But what can you expect when you move to the country? And how can you overcome those challenges to find work, have fun, and integrate as part of your new community?
Finding a Home in Rural America
If you’re moving to be close to friends and family, you may not have much research to do. Fortunately, buying real estate has never been easier because you can search online for the home of your dreams, take a virtual tour, and even learn more about the community where you plan to move, whether you’re joining relatives or relocating somewhere you don’t know a soul.
As you research living in the country, investigate what’s most important to you, whether that’s fine arts, the live music scene, job opportunities, or local shopping. Don’t expect the wide variety you’ll find in a city or even suburban area, but you’ll be surprised to note the number of activities and amenities many small towns offer.
Tips for Moving to the Country
The challenges of country living may begin before you get there. Don’t expect local stores to be open 24/7, as they are in many large cities. Be more meticulous about packing snacks and drinks for moving day, as running to the corner deli probably involves more travel than a stroll around the corner.
Scope out the roads using Google Maps before you leave so you don’t find yourself approaching unpaved roads the moving truck can’t drive on. Additionally, make sure to keep a print-out of your directions, rather than relying only on your phone’s GPS. You may pass through areas with spotty cell phone service.
Small Towns and Technology
If you rely on technology for work, play and everything in between, make sure your new town has a solid, reliable, fast broadband Internet connection. Sure, you can tether your smartphone to your computer or purchase a portable Wi-Fi device through your cell provider, but you’ll still need solid 3G or 4G service, and those megabytes could eat up a significant chunk of your household budget. Fortunately, the FCC’s Connect America Phase II program is working on bringing high-speed Internet access to many underserved rural areas of the U.S.
Similarly, you may investigate the availability of cable in your new hometown, although many country home dwellers rely on satellite TV, instead. As long as you have a fast Internet connection, you can dump broadcast television altogether and rely on Netflix, Hulu, and similar streaming services.
Other Challenges of Rural America
High-speed Internet access may be the least of your challenges when you move to the country. Finding a job, securing quality healthcare, and building a social life may not be as easy as they seem in a city. But, they’re not impossible, either. Millions of Americans living happily in small towns have done exactly that.
The entrepreneurial-minded may find many opportunities to start a business, along with grant money and tax incentives to do just that, thanks to a number of government initiatives.
You might also consider building a career from freelance opportunities that permit you to work from anywhere, or asking your current boss about telecommuting. If you launch an online job search, don’t narrow the parameters by region, but instead, look for companies open to remote workers. “Rural-sourcing” is a growing trend that provides opportunities to highly-qualified employees who live outside urban centers.
If you prefer more conventional employment and have a professional degree in healthcare, law, technology, accounting, or other highly-skilled fields, you may even find some rural areas willing to pay you to move there.
How to Get Involved in Your New Hometown
A small town may have fewer people to meet than a big city, but you’ll meet them in the same way – get outside and introduce yourself. Enjoy the fresh air and country living that attracted you to rural America in the first place. Ride a bike, check in with the local community center or church to find out about upcoming events, whether it’s a parade or the county fair, volunteer, or offer to visit the local school for career day, or mentor up-and-coming professionals at a nearby community college.
Smart leaders in small towns know it’s the newcomers who help their community grow. You may even be able to offer a unique perspective and suggestions about how to attract others in your demographic to the town.
Wherever You Go, There You Are
You might be surprised to discover that, in addition to career and social opportunities, you may also find happiness in Small Town, USA. A study on the happiest regions in America discovered that people in New York City, along with several declining Midwestern cities, are unhappier than the general population. The article theorizes that New Yorkers and people in similar cities are trading happiness for greater salaries and the sense of achievement they get from hustling in the great rat race. If you’re willing to leave that behind, you may not only discover greater happiness, you’ll have the time to enjoy it.