For years, the idea of rural “brain drain” has been the foundation of the way we view our small towns. The notion that the best and brightest our community has to offer leave for college or for bigger and better opportunities and never come back, has stolen the spotlight on the way we see our communities. This is about to change.
Reimagining Rural, a statewide initiative formed between MSU Extension, Montana Community Foundation, Burton K. Wheeler Center and the Montana Governor’s Office on Rural Development, is working to start a statewide conversation focused on building a positive future for our small towns.
Tara Mastel, the MSU Extension Service Community Development Program Leader states, “Our goal is to provide rural communities with opportunities to imagine a positive vision for the future of the rural communities that we love.”
Reimagining Rural is derived from an idea and desire to help create a vibrant future for Montana’s rural communities. The purpose of this effort is to bring people together who are passionate about creating vibrant, robust rural places, growing local capacity and who are eager to learn connect and lead local change.
To kick off this work, the initiative is hosting a three-part statewide virtual community gathering starting Sept. 15. According to Mastel, 25 rural communities across the state have signed up to be a part of this movement.
The first night will feature rural expert Ben Winchester with the University of Minnesota Extension Center for Community Vitality. Ben will share his “brain gain” research that counters negativity common in current discussions of rural communities. Winchester has studied rural demographics extensively and he sees positive trends in rural areas. “Rural America is changing, but it isn’t dying. Everything changes. This world continues to change our communities, urban and rural alike.” He goes on to say, “The narratives we use to describe rural America are important. People don’t move to rural towns out of pity. People are moving to small towns for what they see today and what they see for the future—not for what may have been.”
The first session featuring Winchester is set for Tuesday, Sept. 15 from 4:45 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Pondera Center in Conrad, 311 S. Virginia Street. The second session is slated for Tuesday, Sept. 29, and it will feature Becky McCray and Deb Brown from Save Your Town.
All Pondera County residents are invited. The series is free to the public.
Contact Wendy Wedum at 271-4054 for more information or to sign up to attend.