By CRYSTAL CHEN
Capital News Service
LANSING – Some rural counties are seeing more people move in, Governing magazine data shows, but some experts remain skeptical of a possible trend.
The data shows some counties, such as Isabella, Wayne, Missaukee and Grand Traverse, have lost more residents than they gained while rural counties like Crawford, Lake, Antrim and Leelanau showed growth.
However, numbers in both directions in the 12 months ending in July 2017 were small.
The “net domestic migration rate” refers to the number of people moving in versus those moving out per 1,000 population, according to Governing.
Erich Podjaske, the economic development coordinator of Crawford County, said he doesn’t see a significant number of people moving in, although the county does have plans to attract more workers..
“We are holding development summits, and we have new businesses that are opening, particularly in the trucking and manufacturing area,” Podjaske said.
But the county faces a labor shortage. “We just don’t have enough employees to fill all the positions in every area. Not just engineering, but also soft skills,” he said.
One of the problems is a lack of “nice quality housing,” Podjaske said. “People are moving here and not finding the homes or rentals that they would like.”
It’s difficult to find contractors to build single-family homes, especially because homes in Crawford County aren’t increasing in value and contractors won’t make money on them, he said. To help tackle this dilemma, the county is working on things like multifamily housing, where state assistance could potentially offset some costs.
Recreation is drawing people to some rural counties, according to Rep. Triston Cole, R-Mancelona, who lives on a farm.
He said Northern Michigan, which is typically considered rural, has roughly 4.5 million acres of public land, and “it’s fantastic place to recreate.”
“People want to get away from the hustle and bustle in urban environment, and they would rather look at slowly bubbling creek,” Cole said. “It’s a huge draw to Northern Michigan.”
Northern Michigan has hundreds of lakes and streams for fishing, boating and swimming, and some of the most phenomenal lakeshore for recreation, he said — “whether just sitting in the lawn chair, enjoying the sand in the sun, or if you want to swim in the freezing cold water of Lake Superior.”
As for whether public services meet the needs of incomers, Cole said people don’t require public services to survive. “Many folks just desire to be self-sufficient.”
Teresa Bertossi, an adjunct assistant professor at the Department of Earth, Environmental and Geographical Sciences at Northern Michigan University, said it’s important to be cautious when looking at large-area data in an attempt to understand movements with or between counties.
Urbanization is still a trend, according to Bertossi.
“The overall statistics support that people are still moving to more urban areas, generally speaking, on the planet than ever before,” she said. “Outmigration continues to remain a persistent challenge for many less-developed or more rural places.”
However, Bertossi said her research has demonstrated an apparent pattern of a “sort of” rural gentrification in some non-agriculture-based, rural Lake Superior coastal communities.
“So in a way that does lead to a strain on public services, whereby working class people are forced out of their communities because they can’t find affordable family starter homes,” she said.
Another example of rural gentrification is that within some rural areas with major amenities, like Lake Superior, people are moving from larger cities and building second and third homes in rural places, Bertossi said. That trend contributes minimally to the local economy, leading to higher land values that push working class and lower income people farther away from the lake.
Jeroen Wagendorp, an associate professor at the Department of Geography and Sustainable Planning at Grand Valley State University, said the positive migration rate for rural counties may be due to movement from one rural county to another and not as much from urban to rural counties.
The cost of living in rural counties can be lower than in urban counties.
“If you live in the country, your lifestyle is subsidized by taxes paid by the people living in the city,” Wagendorp said. “The taxes in the city sometimes are twice as high as living in the country.”