Discovering new attitude, new hope for Northern Minnesota


What if the economic prospects in Northern Minnesota aren’t nearly as bad as people make them out to be, but will get much worse if we don’t act soon? What if a working plan for a better future will require an entirely different way of thinking, but there is a solution if we’re willing to work hard?

This month I was honored to be invited to do some guest writing for the Blandin Foundation in Grand Rapids, Minnesota. I was tasked with researching the concept of “Brain Gain” for a post on their blog, which is a nationally-recognized source of information on rural broadband and innovative economic development.

“Brain Gain” is a catchphrase that goes beyond its simplistic label. It’s the notion that rural Minnesota is attracting young professionals back in ways that have gone largely unnoticed. The Brain Gain theory directs economic developers to focus efforts on harnessing the power of returning young professionals and newcomers for self-generating, entrepreneurial growth.

I did some reading and had informative discussions with two leading sociologists who write on this topic: University of Minnesota Extension sociologist Ben Winchester and author Robert Bell, who co-authored the new book “Brain Gain.”

Read the whole post here. What follows is just a taste:

“We are seeing for the first time in the history of the world that ‘location, location, location’ is becoming less and less important,” said Bell from his office in New York. “It’s never unimportant, but the ability to transact almost anything instantaneously online has all kinds of disruptive impacts on the world, but offers rural areas a hope they’ve never seen before. It will take people awhile to realize how powerful this opportunity is. It’s not like a highway that someone builds to your town, but something you have to build yourself.”

For communities that have depended on natural resources, whether that’s farming, logging or mining, it can be difficult to realize that potential, Bell said.

“You are constructing a new economy on top of the old one,” said Bell. “You don’t want to get rid of the old one, but how do you produce another level? You have to start from square one. You have to have infrastructure. You have to have people who know how to use that infrastructure to create knowledge and value.”

You can read “Rural Minnesota’s ‘Brain Gain'” in its entirety at the Blandin Foundation blog.


  1. Jesse Powell says

    I can definitely speak to this. I love rural northern MN (I’m from Bigfork, go Huskies!) and I want nothing but to come back to the area when I am done with law school. The community and family bonds provided by the region are second-to-none, and I’ve lived elsewhere. The region offers boundless activities and experiences for those that embrace them, and I am very lucky so many young professionals from the Cities come up here for a starter job, then head back when one opens closer to the metro.

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