Based on the new census data, 87 of Illinois’ 102 counties experienced population decline between 2010 and 2020. Almost every rural county in Illinois has experienced an outmigration of its youngest and brightest talent, and, now, urban centers, like Chicago, Rockford, Bloomington and others, are experiencing increased outmigration.

Pam Schallhorn, a regional University of Illinois Extension specialist in Community & Economic Development, has spent the last six years studying what prompts people, especially millennials between the ages of 25 and 40, to return or remain in rural communities. She has assisted communities in conducting their own research by developing survey instruments and holding focus groups.

Schallhorn will present “Reversing the Exodus: Strategies for Retaining & Attracting Talent to Your Community” workshops Nov. 30 through Dec. 2 in Vienna, Harrisburg and Ullin.

“Although the effects of the pandemic on outmigration has not had much research devoted to it yet, many experts are predicting that the pandemic may have changed migration patterns especially in younger adults able to work remotely,” Schallhorn said.

Schallhorn will discuss several research-based strategies that communities can implement to help reverse this trend and some insights into how remote work may provide more opportunity for people to migrate back to rural communities. The program will be followed by a young adult panel discussion led by Susan Odum, regional Extension specialist for southern Illinois.

“I believe that the outmigration of talent is one of the top issues needing to be addressed in Illinois,” Schallhorn said. “The loss of young talent is having an impact on business attraction, future leadership, social capital and entrepreneurship across the state, most especially in rural communities.”

“Here in the 11 southernmost Illinois counties, the 2020 Census reflects an overall population decline of 9482, a 7.7% decrease from 2010,” Odum said. “As outlined by the Census Bureau’s 2019 American Community Survey, the most significant loss of 7199 was in the 20-54 age bracket, followed by a decrease of 4167 in residents 19 years of age and under. These population losses were partially offset by an increase in residents ages 55 and older, which reflects that the eleven-county region’s median age continues to grow. These losses in our youth and working age adult populations are unsustainable. The time is now to develop strategies to reverse this trend for southernmost Illinois.”

As outlined by State Rep. Patrick Windhorst (R-Metropolis), “southern Illinois’ strength resides in the people who, like me, call it home. The recent Census numbers confirm that one of the most pressing issues we are facing as a region is the loss of our friends, neighbors and family members to other states. I firmly believe we can, and must, continue working to reverse this trend. I am very appreciative of the work being done by Pam Schallhorn and the Illinois Extension on these matters and would like to encourage anyone thinking about participating in the workshops to please do so. The greatest opportunities are often found in the most challenging times.”

The workshops are scheduled at three different locations across the 11-county region: Tuesday, Nov. 30, from 5:30-7:30 p.m. in the Vienna High School Commons Area, 601 N. First St.; Wednesday, Dec. 1, from 5:30-7:30 p.m. in the Harrisburg City Hall Auditorium, 110 E. Locust St.; and on Thursday, Dec. 2, from 5:30-7:30 p.m. in the L Atrium at Shawnee Community College, 8364 Shawnee College Rd., Ullin.

Registration is required at go.illinois.edu/Reversingthe Exodus.

For more information, contact Odum at sodum@illinois.edu.

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