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Top Ten Reasons for Moving to Rural Minnesota: Quality of Life Trumps Taxes

Mike Knutson of the Rural Learning Center draws our attention to research by Ben Winchester, University of Minnesota Extension, on small-town strategies for attracting and retaining new residents. Winchester analyzed data from 53 surveys and focus group conversations with relatively new residents in Appleton, Canby, Dawson, Granite Falls, Madison, Montevideo, and Ortonville. Winchester's research uncovered the following top ten reasons for moving to this rural Minnesota region:

  1. To find a less congested place to live (77%)
  2. A better environment for raising children (75%)
  3. To find better quality local schools (69%)
  4. To find a safer place to live (69%)
  5. To lower the cost of housing (66%)
  6. To find a simpler pace of life (66%)
  7. To find more outdoor recreational activities (63%)
  8. To be closer to relatives (62%)
  9. To live in a desirable natural environment (60%)
  10. To lower the cost of living (53%)

I'm not seeing one of South Dakota's favorite recruiting claims, "low taxes," in that list. Now I suppose that could just be an artifact of speaking to people who choose to live in the Socialist People's Republic of Minnesota. If the conventional South Dakota "low-tax/no-tax" wisdom holds, folks who would mention taxes in reasons for moving would drive right through Ortonville and stake their claim in lovely libertarian Big Stone City. But evidence shows that doesn't happen much.

Out of these top ten reasons for moving to rural Minnesota, only two could implicitly address low taxes. #5, cheap housing, could be affected by tax structure. Cheap real estate in South Dakota is somewhat offset by property taxes that are higher as percentage of value than property taxes in 35 other states and higher as a percentage of income than in 27 other states.

#10, cost of living, would include tax burden. But look at all the reasons that draw more attention. Better schools, safer neighborhoods, outdoor recreation, desirable natural environment—each of those is directly enhanced by strong public investment.

Two conservative professsors recently deemed South Dakota the second freest state in part because of our low taxes. Again, there could be sampling selection issues here, but that "freedom" doesn't seem to figure in the top ten reasons these folks chose rural Minnesota. Neither did other touchstones of South Dakota "freedom" named by the professors, like limited gun control and legalized gambling.

"Shoot stuff! Play slots! Don't pay taxes!"—No, that just doesn't sound like a ringing recruitment slogan.

* * *
Speaking of marketing, Winchester asked migrants where they got their information while deciding to move:

  1. Family (53%)
  2. Internet (36%)
  3. Friends and acquaintances (32%)
  4. Current community resident (25%)
  5. Employer or co-workers (25%)

Movers and shakers are talking to Mom and Dad, Bro and Sis, and then, they turn right here, to the Web.

Hmmm... I wonder how stacks up against for Google juice?


  1. larry kurtz 2011.06.18

    Your lakefront property would fetch a fine sum. Flee now.

  2. Stan Gibilisco 2011.06.19

    Ah, "freedom"! Like "happiness," it defies quantification. I'm always amused when someone tries to quantify either one of them.

    Taxes are only part of a complex mix of factors to consider when choosing a place to live. In my case, taxes were a major factor. But the cost of housing also mattered, as did location reasonably close to family.

    I am surprised to see Wyoming all the way down at No. 21. I'm also surprised to see Hawaii ranked so low. Their tax system is a real pain in the you-know-what, but they've got a lot of good things going for them too. I used to say, when I lived there, that I had great "freedom from having to own anything." All the stuff I had in this world could fit onto an airliner without exceeding the baggage weight limit (at that time); fully half of the mass was my old computer printer! But I never for an instant felt deprived ...

    ... but one state's meat is another state's poison.

    If South Dakota were to instantly adopt the same tax structure and rate system as, say, Minnesota or Wisconsin, the economy of South Dakota would tank overnight. To some extent, our relatively bleak terrain and fierce weather force us to adopt a low tax structure, lest nobody want to live here at all.

    The people here in Lead seem rather different from the people in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, where I moved from, even though the population density and distribution are about the same. The taxes are substantially different too, although I have to say, Lead has property taxes comparable to those in much of Wisconsin.

    For the small business person such as myself, survival is the number one consideration, especially these days. If one can't follow one's calling, then one might as well be dead, say I.

  3. caheidelberger Post author | 2011.06.19

    But Stan, North Dakota is arguably bleaker and fiercer and gets by with a somewhat more progressive tax structure. (Well, that, and with oil!)

  4. caheidelberger Post author | 2011.06.19

    But Larry, where would we retire?

  5. larry kurtz 2011.06.19

    Retire in a state where your vote counts, Cory and fellow Democrats. Start here.

  6. Stan Gibilisco 2011.06.20

    Good point, Cory.

    Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, and South Dakota all seem to be weathering the recession (yes, I think it's still going on) better than most other states.

    Montana and North Dakota have far more "progressive" tax structures than Wyoming or South Dakota.

    I suspect the success of these four states has more to do with general fiscal attitudes (living within means) than tax rates or methods.

  7. caheidelberger Post author | 2011.06.20

    I'll certainly grant the merits of living within our means. The problem in South Dakota is that we have more means (growing economy) than our GOP legislators are willing to invest (cutting education).

  8. Michael Black 2011.06.20

    Cory, Minnesota has not passed a budget for the next fiscal year. Their legislative session has ended and the Governor has refused to call a special session to resolve the situation. Minnesotans face a state government shutdown July 1st.

    Our neighbor to the east does not look so inviting now.

    [CAH: It's a little early to cry doom over Minnesota. I'm still waiting to hear the giant "Whoosh!" of traffic rushing from Minnesota's chaos and oppression to the sanity and freedom of South Dakota (and we sure won't hear that whoosh on demolished Hwy. 34!). If your thesis on state budgets and migration holds, where's the exodus from America? Or from defaulting Greece? If there is any merit to your thesis, it only supports mine, that people want to live in a state with strong public services. They would leave a budgetless state-shutdown Minnesota only because they couldn't enjoy the advantages of those schools, parks, roads, etc.]

  9. Pete 2011.06.29

    We recently moved here from the town of Madison MN. The economy in that region is in terrible shape and has lost hundreds of jobs in the past couple of years due to the lack of leadership of the Democrat State Representative, Andrew Falk. The city of Appleton lost the private prison there because the Democrats insisted that the workers unionize. The workers repeatedly defeated union efforts but the Democrats punished them for rejecting union representation.

    South Dakota is very attractive to people who want a government to live within its means. South Dakota is a state that lets me keep more of my income and does not redistribute it to the Democrat supporters in the state.

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