[caption id="attachment_142453" align="aligncenter" width="5184"] South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard, left, and Wyoming Gov. Matthew Mead, right, listen to proceedings during the opening session of the National Governors Association Summer meeting at the Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, W. Va., Friday, July 24, 2015. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard misses the youth who left his state.
To enhance the state’s economic base, South Dakota is attempting to woo its young diaspora back home.
The initiative, Dakota Roots, is a sort of job board and referral program that uses a robocall where Daugaard brags about the greatness of South Dakota. A family member or friend can refer a wandering South Dakotan, who then receives an email or call.
Similar programs exist in Wyoming and Idaho as a way to counter the out-migration of 20-somethings from rural areas. Other places, such as Dayton, Ohio, try to attract immigrants, but rural counties often don’t have the economic base robust enough to attract someone over a city. So states are instead using family ties and fond memories of the area to get those who left to return.
When the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service studied the issue, family ties motivated the return, as well as the sense of community, quality of local schools, and the appeal for raising a family. A lack of economic prospects and a fondness for urban life deterred others from returning.
Those return migrants remain small compared to the initial out-migration. For areas looking to stem the population loss, focusing on return migrants can only be a stop-loss measure, not a solution.
Part of the issue is that to leave a rural area for education or work, then return after five years or a decade, it takes a certain sort of person. They’ll still have family in the area, want to raise children in a quiet area, can't be drawn to the city, and will adjust to more limited economic opportunities.
Compared to the typical rural strategy of trying to retain young people or attract retirees, attracting youth back might be more beneficial. Migrants return with higher human capital -- new experiences and ideas -- and can engage in entrepreneurial and leadership roles, as well as increase school enrollment.
The root causes driving this immigration might be out of the hands of governors, but teaming up with empty-nester parents to showcase the appeal of an area and economic prospects can show results. According to Dakota Roots, since the initiative began in October 2006, about 3,800 people have entered employment back home.