Rural migration in low amenity areas has been primarily driven by attachments to place and family ties that supersede economic opportunities. Therefore, return migrants may represent not only the most likely migrant to some rural areas but also important contributors to social and economic vitality in the community. COVID-19’s restrictions on travel and possible permanent increases in teleworking encouraged some rural regions to think about proactively attracting residents. Yet COVID has also heightened awareness of the importance of broadband, food security and healthcare capacity which presents both challenges and opportunities for rural areas. Our study investigates community preferences and policy implications across an 18-county region in northwest Missouri that has faced population decline since 1990. In cooperation with a local leadership team, we surveyed high school graduates and current community members from July-September in 2020. Consistent with previous rural migration research, we find low amenity areas are most desirable to people with existing family ties. COVID-19 has not made rural areas more attractive to natives who have left Northwest Missouri, and it has had less impact on younger people’s perceptions about where to live. However, COVID-19 did increase the desire to live in a rural area and closer to family among returners. Low amenity rural regions should pursue policies that support families and youth organizations; communities should also deliberately engage in-migrants to improve their feelings of belonging and target leavers as a viable population growth strategy.