01 March 2007

Maybe we're not so unusual

Interesting piece from Joel Kotkin in The American Interest, discussing the quiet but increasing migration of educated young people from urban areas to places far less populated. Seems that the growth of the internet has been very helpful in making this happen, but the causes are more complex than just connectivity.

Perhaps more importantly, advances in telecommunications and transportation are helping to break down the traditional sense of isolation, intellectually and culturally, that has hampered the development of the sophisticated industries necessary to lure educated workers back to rural areas. According to researcher Sean Moore, between 1990 and 2000 the percentage of rural counties with a “skills surplus” dropped 14 percent, compared to only 6 percent for metropolitan counties, meaning that educated workers are now finding jobs. As Moore suggests, this reflects a shift in the location of information, business service and other technology-related business to the periphery. The Internet is rapidly diminishing the traditional near monopoly of information that throughout history has belonged to the metropolis; today a farmer, a securities dealer, a machine shop proprietor or a software writer in a small town enjoys the same access to the latest market and technical information as someone located in midtown Manhattan or Silicon Valley.


In many other areas, smaller firms, often individuals working from home, are clustering in pockets of what researcher Amy Zuckerman has called “hidden tech.” These dispersed networks of knowledge workers, many of them refugees from large coastal cities, are particularly evident in places like Bellingham, Washington, the Rapid City area of South Dakota and the Pioneer Valley region of western Massachussetts.But perhaps no city epitomizes the dynamic Brain Belt more than Fargo.

Very interesting term: "Brain Belt." Sure beats the Detroit-area "Rust Belt," where I spent my first few years after college.

The conclusion of the piece was what really caught my attention, though:

The conventional wisdom of rural idiocy, depopulation and boredom in the American Heartland is already more than a decade out of date, if it was ever really true in the first place. Culture and technology are combining to create a new reality for rural America, and for America as a whole. One gets the sense that Thomas Jefferson is smiling down on all of this. This is an American Dream he would well understand.

Ah, yes. Jefferson would be very pleased.

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