Improving Community Connection to its Youth: The Case of Wabaunsee County
Abby (Dechant) Amick, Alma, Kan., defended her thesis, “Improving Community Connection to its Youth: The Case of Wabaunsee County,” on September 7, 2011. She is the Economic Development Coordinator for Wabaunsee County in Alma, Kan. She will graduate from Kansas State University in December with a Master’s in Agribusiness (MAB).
Rural communities across the U.S. are suffering from out-migration of their populations. The Midwest is no different, especially when it comes to the younger populations. Population loss happens for many reasons, but Amick hypothesized that youth who are more engaged with their communities, may not leave or will return after completing their education. She conducted a case study on the population of Wabaunsee County, Kansas for her Master of Agribusiness thesis project to determine what factors contribute to out-migration.
“This project provided me with a greater insight into the opportunities available to community leaders regarding youth retention in rural Kansas,” Amick said. “Young people care about their community and wish that they could see a future there, but the community is failing to show them the opportunities and providing encouragement.”
Amick conducted surveys of high school students to determine what the most influential factors are affecting a young person’s decision on where to live. She found youth with a strong connection to the community or family-owned businesses are more likely to return.
Vincent Amanor-Boadu, Professor of Agricultural Economics and Amick’s thesis advisor, said, "While concerns about youth out-migration persist, there has been no study done on the factors that could redress the problem. Abby’s work provides an initial case study that could help communities begin to think about strategies to enhance their economic development through investments in young people."
Based on Amick’s work, youth in rural communities are interested in returning home after college, but need to feel connected with their community. Amick outlined steps communities can take to lessen out-migration of youth and build those connections including: focusing on family-owned businesses; creating opportunities for young people to become involved in the community through local government and civic boards; and developing a community plan focused on youth.
“If there is an interest in bringing young people back, sometime in their lifetime and preferably during their youth, these connections need to be developed so they feel engaged and realize that there is something to come home to,” Amick said.