Examining the Northwoods through the eyes of the young professional

December 27, 2013

Kyle Rogers

The Northwoods River News

How do you attract more young people to the Northwoods?

It's a question often asked but rarely answered. Finding some potential answers is the eventual goal of a new survey being circulated by Oneida County UW-Extension and the Rhinelander Area Chamber of Commerce's Young Professionals Group.

"Through census data we've known for a while that there are not a lot of young people living in the area who are in their mid to late 20s," said Tim Brown, an agent with Oneida County UW-Extension who heads up the areas of community, natural resources and economic development.

According to 2010 census data, about 1,700 people 25 to 29-years-old live in Oneida County - less than 5 percent of the total population. More than 60 percent of the population is over the age of 40. In the city of Rhinelander itself, the 25 to 29 age demographic takes a slightly bigger chunk but not much - about 7 percent of the total population.

While it's easy to substantiate the fact that young people are the minority in the Rhinelander area, the more difficult determination is why? That's where the survey, developed by Brown and the Young Professionals Group, comes in.

Brown said people seem to have a lot of opinions about how young people view the Rhinelander area, but there is little hard data coming directly from those young people.

"I thought it would be interesting to do a study about why young people live here," he said. "I think that data would be valuable as far as what are our assets. What's working for attracting young people? The goal of the survey is to focus on the assets. A lot of surveys like this seem to focus on the negative. We want to focus on the positive. We want to pull out what people like about living here."

Similar surveys have been conducted in Iron County, Brown said. What officials discovered through that data is Iron County's young residents have a taste for outdoor adventure sports and value the fact that Iron County is an ideal locale for activities like skiing, mountain biking, rock-climbing and kayaking.

"So they focused on that in their marketing with the hope to attract more young people interested in outdoor adventures sports," Brown said.

A new marketing campaign could be developed from the information derived from the Rhinelander area survey, Brown said.

"Maybe there are young people looking for a place like this and they just haven't heard of us," he said. "We need these young people. We have an aging workforce that will need to be replaced as they retire. If we don't get some of these young people back, it will be tough to maintain the level of service we've enjoyed for a quite a while."

But first, the data has to be collected. The survey has been circulating for a little over a week and there have been approximately 200 responses. Word-of-mouth has been the survey distribution method. It can be completed online and Brown said he and the other members of the Young Professionals Group sent the link to coworkers, friends and family with the instruction to pass it on. He said the goal is to get as many responses as possible.

"More is better," Brown said. "We would like to see at least 600 or 700 responses. If we get there quickly we may set the goal higher. We will evaluate it in late January and see where we are."

Brown said some data collection out in the field may be necessary. More information about that aspect of the project will be disseminated to various media outlets in the next month, he said.

"The survey results will be skewed if we don't get a good cross-section," Brown said. "We might have to do things besides just email to spread the word."

He encourages area residents of all ages to take the survey so what people value about living in the Northwoods can be compared among different age demographics. In particular though there is a need for responses from the key demographic of mid to late 20s.

"I'd like to see about even response numbers from the different age categories," Brown said. "Right now though a large number of older people have filled out the survey. I'd like to see more in their 20s. That's the age we're going for."

At 29, Brown himself is in that target demographic. He has been living in the Northwoods and working for Oneida County UW-Extension for a little more than a year.

"I moved to the area because I found a good job that would allow me to use my skills to make a difference in the community. I was attracted to the area because of that and I love the outdoors. It's great for those two reasons," Brown said.

Still, he said he wouldn't mind seeing a more contemporary restaurant and night-life scene in Rhinelander. The intent of the survey is to unveil such information. Questions cover basic information such as age, employment status, and why people first moved to the area. Other questions aim to glean information about people's perceptions of the area and its strengths. The survey concludes with the question: What activities or opportunities would you like to see more in the Rhinelander/Oneida County area?

"We'll have to see what we learn," Brown said. "We'll definitely publish the results in some form that's easy for people to understand with graphs and summaries. After that it will be up to community leaders as far as how they want to use the data."

"I don't have any specific policy initiatives in mind," he added. "What we've had is a lot of opinions about what young people like or don't like about the community. There's never been any hard data. I want data about what young people think."

The survey may be accessed at the following link:

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