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Port: Small towns have an opportunity in the work from home trend

In the coming years, a lot of Americans, freed from the necessity to regularly commute to an office, are going to realize they have more flexibility in their living arrangements. For many of these people, living in small-town America will be an option again. That, my friends, is an opportunity.

enchantedhighway.jpg
"Deer Crossing," a sculpture made by Gary Greff, is along the Enchanted Highway in western North Dakota and is an example of "placemaking art." Placemaking art is made by a community member and reflects the region in which it is located. The North Dakota Council on the Arts has launched a project called Arts Across the Prairie: Placemaking in Rural North Dakota, and is holding meetings across the state about the project. (Photo: North Dakota Department of Tourism)

MINOT, N.D. — The COVID-19 pandemic has turned our nation's economy on its head, mostly in negative ways, but there could be a silver lining for small-town America if we play the cards right.

We all know the rural communities have been emptying out. We've read the books. We've seen the movies. We've observed the desperate economic development gimmicks implemented by small-town governments to lure people back.

Or, at least, get them to stay.

When the North Dakota Legislature reconvenes this month they'll be approving a new legislative district map that once again shows a population shift from the rural areas to the cities.

Small-town America is a wonderful place to live, but it's a difficult place to work. Many of the people leaving would stay if they had appealing career opportunities.

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That's where the pandemic-induced shift in how America works comes in.
"Approximately nine out of 10 U.S. workers who are at least partially remote hope they can continue to work some hours from home after the pandemic subsides," Jacob Holley reports , citing a survey from Gallup released in September.

Some 45% of Americans have worked from home , which isn't a surprising number given what we've just been through. Having gotten a taste for that kind of work, many would like to stay with it. "Employers are at risk of losing talent if they do not allow remote work," Gallup tells us. "Three in 10 employees working remotely say they are extremely likely to seek another job if their company eliminates remote work."

In the coming years, a lot of Americans, freed from the necessity to regularly commute to an office, are going to realize they have more flexibility in their living arrangements.

For many of these people, living in small-town America will be an option again.

That, my friends, is an opportunity.

How do we go about making good on it?

We can talk about the cost of living. The index for housing, groceries, and other expenses in North Dakota is significantly below the national average .

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We can talk about lifestyle. Living in rural America means living closer to nature.

We can also talk about practical matters, like internet access. North Dakota is a broadband internet leader , punching well above our weight given our small population and wide-open spaces. Over 92% of North Dakotans have access to high-speed internet (compared to just 69% in Montana and just 85% in South Dakota), and with endeavors like Starlink's satellite-based, high-speed internet coming online, that situation will only improve.

This is just what I came up with off the top of my head.

I'm sure our state and local leaders can find more compelling arguments to make.

Trying to lure people to live in our rural communities is not a new endeavor, but it's one that should get renewed effort given the opportunity before us.

To comment on this article, visit www.sayanythingblog.com

Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at rport@forumcomm.com .

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Rob Port

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