17th Annual North Country Symposium Excerpts of Opening Remarks from Ben Dixon

For quite some time, we have recognized the need to recruit and retain people in our region.  Of course, people who come to the region are entrepreneurs also workforce, civic leaders, champions of causes bringing fresh energy and new ideas.  Households can also drive the economy by injecting personal disposable wealth, purchasing and building homes, thereby adding to the tax base, driving demand for services and goods.  Tom Coakley and I have shared our thoughts on this many times.

Tom Plastino, economic development in numerous capacities in his career, and he came here as part of a homesteading movement that happened in the 60’s-70’s.  Tom recognized that we needed to get people to “Come Back Here.”  As far as business recruitment goes, he saw that the best approach for us may be to encourage business owners that have roots in the region to return to the region.  He felt that we needed to look to people who know us and our place and our quality of life.  He said let’s target people who have connection to the region and want to get out of the metro urban rat race.  Tom wrote a white paper entitled “Come Back Here.”

We always recognized this idea of trying to enhance our community vitality by recruiting people, but never really pushed it to a formal, organized, dedicated approach.  Until recently.  The IDA decided to get serious about this.  Tom Plastino hired Alex Hammond to do some research to see what best practices and ideas we could borrow from other communities that might be putting a focus on people recruitment.  What Alex found was a remarkable researcher and educator who was studying rural migration patterns in the country with a focus on the “Brain Gain” – the movement of adults in their 30 and 40s into rural communities.  Tom and Alex looked into Ben Winchester and then with our Symposium steering committee and decided we needed to get him here. 

Of course, we need to have effective strategies to make our communities places that people want to move to, and Ben is going to help us consider those strategies today.  Perhaps the most critical first step strategy is to recognize that there is some great movement happening in the North Country.  That we need to recalibrate our thinking so that we don’t allow a dismal outlook and negative assumptions about our communities to becomes self-defeating destiny.  Ben Winchester is going to share with us now his perspectives on why and how we should rewrite our rural narrative in the North Country.  Please join me in welcoming Ben Winchester to the North Country.