For the Rural Advantage article above, thanks to the collaboration of ACT, we tallied ACT National Career Readiness Certificates (NCRCs) in rural and micropolitan counties, an exercise we first conducted in September 2017. Which contenders gained the most?
At the state level, repeat No. 1 North Carolina grew its combined rural and micropolitan NCRCs by a robust 67%, adding 37,775 to reach a total of 94,523. Other states such as Mississippi (up 181%) and Kentucky (167%) made huge strides. The biggest gainer by tally was Wisconsin, which, even though it dropped from No. 2 to No. 3, more than tripled its 2017 total to reach 73,642 NCRCs. The most dramatic leaps percentage-wise came from Missouri (from outside the top 10 to No. 9 this year, with a 217% jump up to 34,663 NCRCs) and Louisiana (up from No. 18 to No. 10, rising by 393% to 33850 NCRCs).
At the rural county level (non-metro and non-micropolitan), Avoyelles Parish in central-eastern Louisiana added 1,331 NCRCs to reach this year’s No. 1 rank with a total of 4,146, in a parish with a total population of just over 40,000, located just southeast of Alexandria. But the biggest gainer was Monroe County, Mississippi — just north of Columbus along the Alabama state line — which added 1,420 to jump from No. 5 to No. 2 in the country at 4,102 NCRCs.
When micropolitan and rural counties are both tossed into the mix, No. 1 Robeson County, North Carolina (aka Lumberton), stayed No. 1 for a reason, adding 1,799 NCRCs (a 27% increase) to reach 8,536. Marshall County, Alabama (Albertville), leapt from No. 15 to No. 7 by adding 1,865 NCRCs to reach a total of 4,894, a 62% increase. But the biggest jump came from No. 4 Walworth County, Wisconsin, which added 2,331 NCRCs (a 64% increase) to move up from No. 7. That county is home to the Whitewater-Elkhorn micropolitan area, situated along Chicago-Milwaukee corridor along the Illinois state line, which boasts the Whitewater University Technology Park, 14 TIF districts and an Elkhorn population that has grown by 38% since the 2000 census, but is perhaps best known as the home of the Lake Geneva area (pictured), where Chicago executives have been blowing off steam since the 1870s. — Adam Bruns