Local Vitalization Cooperator: Ensure Municipalities Fully Utilize Participants’ Enthusiasm

Many people are eager to move to local municipalities to contribute to regional development. It is important for the local governments that accept them to create an environment that facilitates such activities.

In fiscal 2009, the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry established the Local Vitalization Cooperator program to encourage people to move to depopulated and other areas and engage in regional revitalization.

Participants transfer their residence registration to the new region and work as temporary employees of local governments for a maximum of three years. They receive remuneration during their term of service, and local authorities can receive fiscal support from the central government. A total of 7,200 people participated in fiscal 2023, the highest number ever.

The program is intended to promote the development of regional areas suffering from population decline and to encourage people to settle in these areas.

Of the about 11,000 people who had completed their terms of service by fiscal 2022, more than 60% reportedly found jobs or started their own businesses in or around the area where they served. The program can be said to be playing a certain role in promoting migration to rural areas.

In Higashikawa, Hokkaido, which touts itself as a “town of photography” to promote the local scenery, a man from Fukuoka Prefecture works at the town office, handling the town’s international photography festival and other events.

The man applied to the “town of photography” promotion project to make use of the photographic skills he acquired as a student.

A woman moved to Shintomi, Miyazaki Prefecture, after working for a planning and production company for publications in Tokyo. In Shintomi, she was involved in the renewal and editorial production of the town’s PR magazine.

The woman came to greatly enjoy living there, so she purchased an old house in the town and plans to stay after her term ends and continue working as a freelance editor.

It is also true, however, that a certain number of participants have quit before their terms of service ended.

Local governments are sometimes unclear about the purpose of their recruitment, and participants were reportedly confused about what kind of work they should do. It is important for local governments to clarify the duties they expect of their program participants and ensure they have the same understanding.

Those who wish to participate in the program should also consider how their experience and skills can be utilized before applying for a position.

Members of the program often become isolated because they cannot build good relationships with residents. Local governments should work responsibly to serve as a bridge between the two sides.

Hosting organizations in Toyooka, Hyogo Prefecture, such as the city government and the tourism-related organization affiliated with the municipal authorities, are working together to maintain close communication with cooperators. As a result, the city has more than 50 members, one of the highest numbers in the country.

There have also been such endeavors as a pilot program that allows people to work in a municipality on a trial basis, and a system in which people with experience as cooperators can support current participants. Such cases should serve as a reference for other municipalities.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, April 30, 2024)