[imgcontainer right] [img:mancamps.jpeg] [source]The New York Times[/source] The boom in the oil and gas fields of northwestern North Dakota is so strong there is not enough room to house workers. Companies are setting up rows of temporary housing — they are calling them “man camps” — and communities are having a hard time adjusting to the rapid growth. [/imgcontainer]

Columnist Kyle Munson (in Des Moines) finds that two-thirds of Iowa’s counties lost population in the last decade and that more than half of the state’s population lives in just 10 of the state’s 99 counties. But Munson goes on to set a realistic goal for rural survival. 

Rural Iowa has been hurt worse by the recession than the cities, Munson writes. Rural counties lost 6 percent of their jobs since 2007 while the state’s cities lost only 1.6 percent. Even the boom in land prices has a downside: Young farmers find it harder to buy into a business that has gotten quite expensive. 

Munson writes about tactics states have used to encourage people to move back to rural areas. Kansas offers income tax breaks for out of state residents, for example. These kinds of incentives haven’t been in effect long enough to tell if they work, says Jon Bailey with the Center for Rural Affairs in Nebraska.

More realistically, says economist Liesl Eathington, the larger trend of people moving out of rural communities is “impossible to really fight.” But, she adds, there are “pockets of places that appear to be bucking the trend.” Just because the macro trend is for all of rural to depopulate, there are  plenty of communities going the other direction.

“We’re going to have to have people managing and creating enterprises in rural America regardless of how the population goes at some point,” says Mark Edelman of Iowa State’s Community Vitality Center. “That’s where we get all our food; that’s where we’re increasingly receiving our energy.”

The goals for rural America are different from those of the cities. “We’re all convinced that we need more and more and more to be viable and successful, and that’s not true,” says Joe Bartmann, a consultant at the Rural Learning Center in South Dakota. “You can create a viable community where people want to live even if there’s only a few hundred of those people.”

• The Federal Communications Commission got a “thanks” from the Los Angeles Times in an editorial over the holidays: 

The Federal Communications Commission replaced outdated subsidies for phone service in rural and remote areas with subsidies for broadband in rural areas and low-income communities. Almost everyone in rural America has a phone, but millions lack a broadband connection. The FCC’s new approach positions those communities to take advantage of the future. 

• Last week AT&T withdrew its request that the FCC approve its $39 billion purchase of T-Mobile. 

The announcement was made a few days after FCC chair Julius Genachowski said he opposed the merger, which would create the largest wireless company in the nation. The merger was opposed by regional wireless companies. AT&T tried to make the merger appealing to the FCC by saying it planned to spend $8 billion to expand its broadband network, largely to rural areas.

AT&T hopes not to receive approval from the Department of Justice, which is reviewing the proposal to determine if it violates anti-trust laws. However, this could spell the end of the merger. “The chances that AT&T will take over T-Mobile are almost gone,” Gigi B. Sohn, president of consumer advocacy group Public Knowledge, said in a statement.

• Here is how the Canadians see the Keystone XL pipeline debacle. An article in MacLeans magazine says this is “another in a long list of Obama White House affronts to Canada.” 

Or, it’s a case of Canada being caught up in U.S. partisanship.

• A new study of county crime statistics finds that there is no evidence that right-to-carry gun laws lead to decreases in crime. The study appears in the fall issue of American Law and Economics Review.

The statisticians concluded that “there is little or no indication of any consistent RTC (right-to-carry) impact on crime.”

• The New York Times writes about the incredible shortage of housing in the oil and gas boom region of northwest North Dakota. In one county, a third of the population is living in temporary housing. See a photo of one of the “man camps” built in the state to house workers at the top of this story

Mountrail County has imposed a moratorium on the development of new “man camp” housing — temporary housing for oil field workers. They are having to write new regulations to cover the problems that are arising from such rapid growth.

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