Rural population decline troubling to economists

Wednesday, October 15th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

ENID, Okla. (AP) _ Economists say population decline outside of Oklahoma City and Tulsa is making it difficult to keep rural economies going.

Net farm incomes are rising in Oklahoma as are cattle prices and land values, but the population decline in rural areas troubles economists.

``What that tells us is standing still is not much of an option. Our (rural Oklahoma) greatest export is not cattle, but the people we send to the cities. New economic engines are needed,'' said Jason Henderson, an economist at the Center for the Study of Rural America.

Henderson was a speaker at the 2003 Oklahoma Economic Forum held by the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, Mo., on Tuesday.

``Oklahoma's new economic landscape, for its regional areas, we think is built on technology,'' Henderson said. ``New technological innovations are lessening distances between remote locations and creating new products.''

A new source of income for rural Oklahoma is the growing, harvesting and processing of pharmaceutical crops.

Processing plants for these crops are being built and skilled employees are needed for high-wage jobs, Henderson said.

Rural communities also need to take a regional approach and work together with other cities to sustain local economies.

``Communities can no longer subsist on independence,'' Henderson said. ``The common thread of the new economic frontier is interdependence, instead of independence.''