January 27, 2023
It’s no secret that many small towns across Missouri and the U.S. are declining in population as young people move away, drawn by further education and job opportunities. Far too often, rural communities do not offer things young people — and young families — need and can get in more urban areas.
Some towns are working hard to change the narrative, and it is wonderful to see. Boutiques on the town square offer local places to shop. New and remodeled homes provide places to live. Those things are certainly part of the solution. But what else can be done to bring the next generation back to rural Missouri?
I think it is a matter of knocking down barriers that keep people from returning to rural Missouri.
Get them connected
Quality, high-speed internet must be a part of the equation — not sometimes reliable, marginal-speed internet. Our rural areas, both in town and on the farm, must have the same internet availability as any person in an urban setting.
Technology is more important than ever on farms and ranches as producers continually innovate their operations and become more efficient. Producers must have the capability to use technology in the middle of a field or at chute side.
Reliable high-speed internet also plays into other factors that will help draw young people back to rural Missouri, including the positive impact on schools, telehealth and remote work opportunities.
Create attractive jobs
Employment opportunities are a large part a decision to relocate to a rural area. How many times have you heard that the next generation would like to consider the family farm, but there are no jobs for a spouse?
When it comes to jobs, strides are being made, without question. Gov. Mike Parson and the Missouri Department of Economic Development announced numerous projects over the past few years that are bringing jobs to rural areas.
Off-farm income can be a difference maker for returning to the farm, or simply keeping a farm operating in a difficult year.
Give access to health insurance
Many working spouses have the opportunity for health insurance where they work, but it is different for those wanting to return to rural communities to work in the family business.
We all know that farming is a dangerous profession, and health insurance can be expensive to farm families. Unaffordable rates can be a burden that far too often keeps farmers from carrying any insurance at all. So, what happens to those families?
The Missouri Chamber of Commerce administers a plan available to small group employers, including farms and ranches. The Chamber Benefit Plan is available to small group employers who are members of a qualifying Chamber of Commerce and have two to 50 eligible employees.
Those two employees can be from the same family — think husband-wife or father-son — or different families as long as each person is a full-time employee.
Many of you, like my husband and I, live in a small town without a local Chamber. Your residence location does not limit participation in the program. Every county has at least one town with a local Chamber of Commerce. Membership to the Missouri Chamber is optional.
The Chamber Benefit Plan has a variety of options, including PPO and HSA, as well as dental, vision, life and disability coverage. Visit mochamber.com or call your local Chamber of Commerce to find more information.
My daughter and son-in-law live on his family farm in rural north-central Missouri. She drives to the largest town in the county for a job in rural health care. My son recently returned to our family farm and lives in a farmhouse 15 miles from town.
Rural Missouri is the backbone of our state. We must continue to find ways to revitalize our rural communities and provide reasons for our young people to stay or return and raise a family. This generation can bring great ideas and energy, making our towns even better.
High-speed internet, off-farm jobs and insurance are affecting the next generation’s decisions. I assure you that for my children, your children and your grandchildren, we will keep working to knock down barriers.
Chinn is the director of the Missouri Department of Agriculture and a hog producer from Clarence, Mo.
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