Recently, we reported on a study that revealed a surprisingly high (49%) of Millennials (those born between the years 1977 and 1995) have a strong inclination to start and own a business within the next three years. This scenario poses a challenge to small and rural locations which are seeing their young residents moving to more urban areas. Becky McCray, an expert on rural and small town small business and founder of Small Business Survival (and a regular contributor to, has some advice for town leaders who are seeking to retain Millennials, especially the entrepreneurial ones. 

One of the top issues named in the recent and SaveYour.Town Survey of Rural Challenges was how to retain Millennials. It ranked the #1 concern in 2015, and #2 in 2017. One participant commented, “We have already identified that to survive, we will need entrepreneurial Millennials who want to be rural by choice. The hard part is making our town of 1,900 attractive enough for them to even consider us.”

One successful example of a Millennial-friendly small city is Rexburg, Idaho, population 26,000. The town has chosen to brand itself, “Millennial City, USA,” because over 80% of residents are under 30. Recently, Regional Economic Development for Eastern Idaho (REDI) commissioned research to discover what drives the decisions of rural Millennials. “So much has been written about what urban Millennials want, but this is the first time anyone has formally studied rural Millennials to learn what drives them,” says Jan Rogers, president of the REDI.

Waterfall near Rexburg, Idaho.

How do rural and urban Millennials differ from one another?

Here are some of the study’s findings.

  • Facebook is the #1 social media platform used by rural Millennials, while Snapchat and Instagram are more popular with urban Millennials.
  • Rural Millennials prefer to live in an open area close to an urban center, rather than in the middle of a city or town.
  • Rural Millennials are more motivated by the type of work they’re doing than by pay or other incentives.
  • Networking with peers, friends and family connections are how rural Millennials find jobs, rather than on websites like LinkedIn and Indeed.
  • Poor work culture is the number one reason that rural Millennials leave a profession or a job.

How to retain or recruit Millennials

1. Listen to your Millennials.

There are already young people choosing to live in your community. Ask them why they’re here and listen deeply to their answers. Don’t interrupt. When you ask for their insight, take the time and be respectful enough to listen without interrupting. Focus on writing down what they are saying instead of responding.

2. Know your recreation opportunities.

You don’t have to have Yellowstone National Park in your backyard to offer great outdoor experiences and a quality of life that Millennials will want. Take time to think about what you do have to offer and talk with young people you see in the outdoors.

3. Connect with regional educational institutions and employers.

Even if they aren’t huge, educational institutions and employers are anchors for your community. Reach out to ones that are nearby even if they aren’t in your town itself.

4. Improve work culture.

Bring in outside resources to offer business training and to help your businesses understand what “work culture” means and why they need to change how they think of and treat the people who work for them.

VIA | Small Biz Survival

Photos: istock, REDI

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