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Abstract

Throughout rural America, especially in remote areas lacking scenic landscapes, hundreds of communities face the difficult challenge of adjusting economically and socially to dwindling populations. High school graduates leave for college, good-paying jobs, the military, or simply to see the world, and only a small number return. However, those who do return often bring spouses and young children back with them, along with education and skills gained elsewhere. This study reports on the factors that influence decisions to move back to rural areas and the impacts that return migrants make on home communities. Interviews at high school reunions show that limited rural employment opportunities are barriers for those considering a move back home. Those who do return find ways to secure employment, but are primarily motivated by family considerations. Return migrants use skills and experiences acquired elsewhere, and their commitment to their places of origin, to start businesses, fill professional positions, and take on leadership roles in ways that uniquely impact rural communities.

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