In hope of bringing new families and businesses to the Thief River Falls area, Advance Thief River and community volunteers are partnering with University of Minnesota (U of M) Extension to implement what they are calling the Making It Home project. 

The aim of Making It Home is to promote and highlight the attractive qualities of the Thief River Falls area. “One of our highest priorities is increasing the population,” stated Michelle Landsverk, Project Coordinator and Economic Development Consultant for Advance Thief River. “That means we need to understand why people move here and get strategic about marketing the area to potential new residents.”

U of M Extension started the Making It Home program after analyzing economic and demographic changes happening across the United States and rural Minnesota.

Neil Linscheid, a U of M Extension educator in community economics, says they discovered a trend in which groups of people in their 30s, 40s, and 50s were regularly moving their families to small towns across the nation. Some were moving to small towns for the slower pace of living and sense of safety and security, while others were looking for a low-cost housing market. Either way, young families were moving in.

He explains the reason many rural communities appear to be in decline is because the number of new families coming in is not enough to offset the number of 18- to 24-year olds relocating elsewhere.

“So maybe the overall population of a city declines from census to census, but within that change there is still lots of growth in younger, new people moving in, and we thought that really was an important thing,” Linscheid said.
After learning this, Linscheid said many begin to wonder how they can attract these new families to their communities, as well as keep their current residents. In 2016, following the process already established by the University of Nebraska and North and South Dakota, the U of M started working with rural communities in Minnesota.

Since then, they have worked with numerous Minnesota communities, and now, will help Advance Thief River and community volunteers to implement their own Making It Home project, following the proven process implemented by U of M Extension in numerous other rural communities across the state.

The Making It Home process was first flagged by Mayor Brian Holmer, who became aware of it after hearing a presentation by Linscheid at a League of Minnesota Cities conference and then brought it back to share with other community stakeholders, including Advance Thief River. “It is easy to love the home town you grew up in for so many reasons,” Mayor Holmer stated. “What we need to do is attract people in their 30s, 40s, and 50s who are open to the idea of moving their families to a small town if we can find the key messages that will attract them here.”

The process involves convening a broad spectrum of community members in a series of discussions—or study circles—facilitated by local volunteers. These facilitators will take part in two training sessions provided by Jody Horntvedt, Extension Educator, to hone their skills. Horntvedt describes the training as “an opportunity to learn new tools and techniques for extending invitations and hosting study circle conversations.”

Local study circles will meet 4 times during February and March to gather information and share ideas. Participants will work their way through a booklet provided by U of M Extension that asks questions and prompts insight into what makes the Thief River Falls area so attractive and what can be done to attract new residents to the area.

They will then settle on a project and goals to pursue, as well as outlining the details of what is needed to achieve each goal. An Action Forum will be held in April, allowing each study circle to announce its project or market plan to the other participants. The groups have until the start of September to put their plans into action.

Because a broad variety of perspectives is desired, all interested individuals are encouraged to participate, whether by joining a study circle or forging a new one.

For more information on how to join or lead a study circle, contact Michelle Landsverk, 218-280-1755 or mlandsverk@icloud.com.

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