Rural Michiganders face housing, broadband and workforce challenges, report says ⋆ Michigan Advance

Rural Michiganders face housing, broadband and workforce challenges, report says ⋆ Michigan Advance

The Michigan Office of Rural Prosperity (ORP) has released Michigan’s Roadmap to Rural Prosperitya 71-page report detailing the challenges facing rural communities across Michigan and strategies to help address them.

ORPunder the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity (LEO), was established in 2022 as Office of Rural Development. It was later renamed the Office of Rural Prosperity in 2023.

The office was created in response to the unique needs that rural communities have and the challenges they face around issues such as housing, broadband, infrastructure, economic development and access to health care, said ORP Director Sarah Lucas.

Michigan Guide to Rural Prosperity map

“The Office of Rural Prosperity is one of only a handful of state offices that are focused on rural prosperity. There are about six of us in the country, and not many states have a comprehensive strategy like this, specifically aimed at rural communities,” Lucas said. “It’s very unique and I think it’s a really important opportunity for the state to come together around the needs that are rural communities experience.”

According to the Rural Prosperity Roadmap released last month, rural Michigan is home to 20% of the state’s population and makes up nearly 94% of the state’s land area.

Rural Michigan includes 12 federally recognized Michigan tribes, more than 1,400 local governments and 70 counties considered rural or mostly rural,” the report states. “With over two-thirds of the school districts and 21 colleges and universities located in the areas rural state, rural Michigan is essential in preparing the future workforce.”

The roadmap aims to provide an understanding of rural needs and priorities and assist local, regional and state leaders in “advancing collaborative and collective action to achieve prosperity across rural Michigan,” according to a press release from LEO. ORP defines rural prosperity as “resilient, connected rural residents, communities and natural environments”.

Lucas said the idea for the guide started after hearing persistent concerns among members of the rural community. She said the ORP thought it would be helpful to have an understanding of how policy, programs and resources might affect some of the issues being discussed.

Michigan Guide to Rural Prosperity map

“I would say the listening process started in April of 2022 and we’ve never stopped it,” Lucas said. “That’s really a key function of our office is to engage closely with rural communities to understand what they’re going through and then make sure that our partners within state government and outside of government have a shared understanding of what those experiences are. .”

ORP obtained input from rural residents and community leaders through several different engagement efforts, including a listening tour that reached 58 counties, a 2023 statewide survey that received 2,489 responses, rural leadership summits, local and regional discussions and topic-based roundtables.

According to the guide, respondents to the 2023 Rural Priorities and Prospects Survey said the biggest challenges facing rural communities over the next 10 years are: increasing housing opportunities, attracting a larger working-age population, changes in the cost of living, managing population growth and development and retaining the workforce.

Housing is the most cited critical issue facing rural communities nationwide, followed by workforce challenges, the guide says.

The seven strategies the guide presents to help address these issues are:

  • Growth and diversification of the workforce in all sectors.
  • Improving individual health and economic well-being.
  • Supporting local and regional capacities to provide services.
  • Expanding the quality and accessibility of housing.
  • Building and maintaining resilient infrastructure.
  • Increasing regionally directed and country-based economic development efforts.
  • Protection and conservation of natural assets.

Now that the roadmap is out, ORP will use it as a way to “frame the conversations,” Lucas said. She said this is an opportunity to share resources and “best practices” so that communities trying to implement the ideas outlined in the report have the support and connections to be successful.

“We’ll actually be talking to a lot of groups over the next few months about the roadmap and what it might look like in terms of local and regional initiatives, in terms of statewide initiatives,” she said. “It’s really going to be, in some ways, a conversation starter and a vehicle through which we can collaborate with other agencies and with other types of partners, both inside and outside of the state of Michigan.”

So far, people have said the guide reflects their experiences living and working in rural Michigan, Lucas said.

“Even in the last two weeks, since it was released, there have already been a lot of really great opportunities that have come out of it to integrate it into local, regional and statewide action,” she said.

Michigan’s Roadmap to Rural Prosperity_FINAL Report

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