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Minnesota's lake country could see population spurt as retirees move there

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Minnesota's lake country communities rely on people who own second homes in their areas, but local leaders haven't known very much about those part-time residents until recently. A study from the University of Minnesota Extension suggests they should get ready to see more of them become permanent residents.

Extension researchers recently surveyed second homeowners in eight central and western "high natural amenity" counties and found the population in those areas is likely to grow significantly in the next decade, as part-time residents retire and move to their seasonal homes permanently.

The study determined that people who own second homes are generally older, are well educated and make more money than the average Minnesotan, the Brainerd Dispatch reports.

They also spend an average of $3,000 each year in lake country, which includes expenses for groceries, gas, restaurants and other businesses.

The eight counties - Cass, Aitkin, Hubbard, Becker, Otter Tail, Douglas and Pope - have a large number of second homes that are vacant at least part of the year. The average is 31 percent across all eight counties, but in Aitkin County that about half of all its homes are owned by part-time residents.

More than half of those who responded to the survey said they plan to move to lake country full time over the next 10 years, and that would add up to about 46,000 new permanent households.

Those new residents could put a strain on local services, but they also could make significant contributions, the study said.

"Second-home communities could benefit from the talents and leadership skills seasonal residents bring and should undertake strategies to welcome and integrate them, especially in preparation for their permanent transition to the community," researchers said.

Integrating those new residents will likely be a challenge; while the respondents said they feel very attached to their second homes, they are less attached to the nearby communities, according to the Dispatch.

Researchers also asked the respondents to name what they thought would be the most important challenges facing the area in the next 20 years, and tops on the list were water quality and environmental issues. That was followed by concerns over tax rates and infrastructure.

The quality of Internet service was rated lowest of all the local services provided, according to the survey. About 25 percent of the respondents telecommute, and about a quarter of them ranked their Internet service as poor.

That finding dovetails with another report last fall that laid bare the huge disparity in broadband speeds between those living in the Twin Cities metro area and those living in rural Minnesota.

A report by Connect Minnesota reveals that just 0.06 percent of residents in rural northern Minnesota Aitkin County have access to a high-speed internet service, compared to more than 90 percent of those living in the metro area.

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