A recent young adult migration study released by Ben Sprung-Keyser and Nathaniel Hendren of Harvard University and Sonya Porter of the U.S. Census Bureau “shows 80% of young adults migrate less than 100 miles from where they grew up. 90% migrate less than 500 miles.”
Rexburg bucks that trend with the presence of Brigham Young University-Idaho. As a religious school with national and international appeal, it draws students from all regions of the United States and numerous other countries as well.
According to BYU-Idaho’s Office of International Services, students from approximately 100 nations are represented on campus.
Most transplants in Rexburg came here for the university, but many decided to stay afterwards.
Jack Thomas is a construction management student who moved here from Seattle. He is taking an off-semester, works at a cabinet shop and plans to stay in Rexburg long term. “That’s the plan so far. I like the area,” Thomas said. “My parents are actually moving out of Seattle as well. They’re in Great Falls, Montana. We’re all kind of in a transitional period.”
Thomas was attracted to Rexburg for its culture.
“I like the people here,” Thomas said. “It’s a bit of a change-up from back home... The culture of Idaho is more appealing – it’s more my speed! It’s just friendly, and I like the outdoors and being close to so many things. You know, people here, we all just kind of get along. (We’re) easy-going people.”
He had already planned to leave his home state for good. “I knew that I would be leaving Washington eventually. So I figured, might as well just set up shop here,” Thomas said.
The Harvard and U.S. Census Bureau study measured “where individuals move between childhood (as measured by their location at age 16) and young adulthood (as measured by their location at age 26).” It found that 61% of young adults in the Pocatello, Idaho “commuting zone” stayed within the same zone. The Pocatello commuting zone covers most of eastern Idaho — including Rexburg, St. Anthony and Idaho Falls.
Top destinations for young adults leaving this region include Boise (5.4%), Salt Lake City (5%), Provo, Utah (2.6%), Logan, Utah (1.5%), Seattle (1.4%), Phoenix (1.2%) and Twin Falls (1.2%).
For young adults moving to this region, “the average (individual) moved from an area about 236 miles away for their job. That is 55 miles above the national average (181 miles),” the study said.
Young adults moving to the Pocatello commuting zone arrived from Boise (2.3%), Salt Lake City (2.3%), Los Angeles (2.1%), Seattle (1.4%), Logan, Utah (1.4%), Twin Falls (1.1%), Soda Springs (1.1%) and Phoenix (1.00%).
The “migration matrix” was created using “de-identified Census and tax data for children born between 1984 and 1992.” It divides the U.S. into groups of associated counties or “commuting zones” and “measure(s) the rates of movement across commuting zones between childhood and young adulthood.”
While BYU-Idaho did not have statistics available on how many students came from out of state, the university’s unique religious draw encourages greater young adult migration than is found at other regional universities such as Idaho State University.
But plenty of BYU-Idaho students plan to move on after completing their education at BYU-Idaho.
Gillian Hollinger is a Rexburg resident and a stay-at-home mother. She and her husband, a business management student, moved to Rexburg two years ago from Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
“Once my husband graduates, we’re thinking we might move to Kentucky which is where part of his family lives,” Hollinger said.
She also identified BYU-Idaho as the major draw to Rexburg. “Most of the young couples who are around here are coming here to go to school,” she said.
While she doesn’t intend to remain after university, Hollinger appreciates the values upheld by the citizens of this area. “I really like the community... I feel like this area has a lot more people who hold the same values that my husband and I do, as opposed to Lancaster,” she said.
Lower costs also invite residents to move here and stay.
“Definitely, just the cost of living for sure,” Thomas said. “Here is a lot better off than a lot of places in the country.”
The community continues to draw and retain many students.
“I think the atmosphere of Rexburg is a place where people just want to be. If you are able to discover it as a student, it’s hard to want to leave it when you graduate. Not everybody discovers it, but those who do feel like they must come back,” Jacobs said.
More information on young adults, migration and the “The Radius of Economic Opportunity: Evidence from Migration and Local Labor Markets” study — including an interactive map and the availability to sort results by race and parental income level — is available at migrationpatterns.org.
Adam Jacobs, a 2017 BYU-Idaho graduate, said that while education originally drew him to Rexburg, other factors encouraged him to stay after he was married.
“I chose to attend BYU-Idaho as a Tennessee resident because I felt like this was the place to be. I had toured the school back in 2010 while driving cross-country, and I never forgot the experience,” Jacobs said. “My wife visited the campus, even though she was a Washington state resident when her sister went here, and she felt, ‘This is the place for me too...’ It was just the call we felt coming in our hearts to go to BYU-Idaho.”
The proximity to the outdoors also drew him in. “We like our closeness to the wilderness. There’s not too many universities that have Yellowstone, the Tetons, rivers, lakes and sand dunes so close,” said Jacobs.