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Keywords

Rural, Northern Plains, Community Persistence, Rural Communities, Great Plains, Enduring Communities, Community Sustainability, Social Networks, Human Capital, Civic Engagement

Abstract

In the face of on-going population loss and despite all dire warnings to the contrary, the clear persistence of certain rural communities continues in unexpected areas of the Great Plains. It is this persistence that is becoming the most difficult element to explain. Thus, this paper turns the traditional research question on its head and asks why some deep rural communities endure. As a result, we introduce a new concept in rural studies-community persistence-and, consequently, we advance a theoretical model to explain why some communities survive without natural amenities or adjacency to a metropolis. Our concept of persistence attempts to answer the question, "why are you still out there?" when most of society has given up on deep rural populations. We offer a sharp distinction between community persistence and the much-discussed concept of community sustainability. Moreover, our theory incorporates place-based sociological, economic and political factors associated with community persistence. In particular, our integrated theory suggests that persistent communities develop dense social networks, high human capital and deliberative civic engagement so that these towns stood out from the crowded field of contenders for sub-regional prominence. Since we are embarking on a long-term investigation about deep rural communities, this paper offers a preliminary analysis using existing data sources. Our unit of analysis is the county and our sample includes all deep rural counties in Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota. We employ two measures of persistence: per capita income and civilian labor force. Both our initial analysis of the ten most persistent counties and a more rigorous test of the entire sample indicate a high proportion of college graduates, high population density, and competitive political parties are most closely associated with persistent communities. Our findings suggest that a broad mix of social, economic, and political factors are essential to community persistence in deep rural areas. We connect our findings to rural development policy efforts and also discuss avenues for future studies that build on our theory.

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