Here's a little encouragement in these dire times: Things are not as bad as they seem. At least in our neck of the woods.

The number of West Central residents (including Becker, Otter Tail and Clay counties) who feel their community is performing well in roads and infrastructure, public transportation service, and cultural and arts opportunities improved significantly since 2016, according to the Rural Pulse survey of more than 1,560 Minnesotans just released by the Blandin Foundation.

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Across the state, nearly eight in 10 (78%) of those living in rural Minnesota say that they are optimistic about the future of their community, up 4 percentage points since 2016. They also feel they are able to make a positive community impact (84%) and that their community works across differences to address local issues (82%).

We like it here

Those in rural areas like where they live, according to the survey. Only 14% of rural Minnesotans have considered moving to a larger metropolitan area in the past two years, a drop of 6 percentage points from 2016.

Meanwhile, more Minnesotans living in urban areas have considered moving to rural Minnesota, according to the survey. Citing quality of life as the main motivating factor, 27% of those in urban areas say they have considered moving to a less-populated, rural area in the past two years, up from 21% in 2016.

Sluggish economy

Not everything is rosy, however.

On the economic front, fewer respondents in the West Central region reported the condition of the economy has improved since they were last surveyed in 2016, according to the foundation.

And, while the number of people who report losing a job in the last year is down from 2016, only one in four say their household income increased in the past year, compared to 39% in 2016.

The foundation said that among the wealth of data generated by Rural Pulse, themes continue to arise related to the economy. While one in three Minnesotans statewide report that the economy has improved over the past year, many may not be personally feeling it yet. Only 28% of rural and 33% of urban Minnesotans report their household income increased over the past year.

In rating community and state performance, 36% of rural Minnesotans disagree that there is an adequate number of living-wage jobs in their community, compared to 30% of urban residents.

Also, 27% don't believe their community maintains and grows job opportunities adequately, compared to only 18% of urban residents.

Sixty-three percent of rural Minnesotans and 75% or urban residents feel their communities are doing a sufficient job with economic development.

Therefore, the foundation noted, it is not surprising that nearly one in four rural residents identify job opportunities or economic development as the most critical issues in their communities.

Rural-metro divide

The survey gives some credence to the belief that there are "two Minnesotas" - the rural and the metro. A third of both urban (31%) and rural (38%) residents polled continue to say metropolitan needs are more important to elected officials than those of rural communities.

Notably, rural women (41%) and rural community leaders who are graduates of Blandin's leadership training programs (64%), believe this to be true, the foundation said.

One other high note from the survey could help bridge the rural-metro divide: Minnesotans - both urban and rural, and across all demographics - give themselves high marks when standing up to hate or discrimination if they see it occur. About 80% agree that people in their community can do this.

Now that's something to build upon.