I often hear jovial stories and stereotypes, both inside and outside rural areas, about how the inhabitants of small towns are stranded in the 1960s and refuse to live. accept the change. They jokingly say that we nostalgically cling to our traditions, our history, our ways of doing things and the values of our little town. Personally, I chose to live in a small town because it's safe, close to my family and offers me the quality of life I need.
I do not appreciate these generalizations and stereotypes about how rural people are stuck in an obsolete place. These words certainly do not represent the community leaders I work with every day. But do not get me wrong, there are people who run and live in rural areas that are stuck in an old system and their hard truth is that it is not 1969 and it will never be again.
The conversation about change in rural areas is certainly necessary, but difficult. Often, when people courageously open this conversation, it creates an obstacle to progress because we do not listen to understand. The barrier occurs because the emerging system feels restrained and the existing system feels repulsed. We must recognize that existing systems are not bad, but they must be fed into the emerging system that is always certain to grow.
I have recently experienced Aha! moments that can move our rural communities to an emerging system that can make us stronger, better and more hopeful.
Aha! # 1 – There is a new three-legged stool for economic development.
The old three-legged stool includes the traditional areas of economic development:
- business retention and expansion;
- business attraction; and
- business creation / entrepreneurship.
The new three-legged stool focuses on creating a community where people want to live. The reason for this change is that our emerging workforce is choosing a location before choosing a job. The three legs of this stool are:
- Business Development (create, attract, retain, develop);
- Talent development; and
- Make room.
Working together on these three aspects creates a place where our main streets and industries connect; young people are educated and encouraged to return home to add value to the local economy; and the community enjoys a solid place quality focused on health and well-being, citizen engagement, daycare, housing, education, arts and culture and the events.
Aha! # 2 – We must recognize that our own presence counts in our community.
Whitney Kimball Coe, Director of National Programs at the Center for Rural Strategies, said, "Many of our communities are run by older men who like to explain things." This stereotype of "old white" has impact me when I heard her say those words. I saw other people in the room bristling at his words. I am grateful to the dedicated men who have built a strong foundation for the community I call home. They helped me make changes. Still, I know that Whitney's words are true. I was the only woman to serve on my city's city council for 113 years. I sit on many boards that are mostly men. I also work in other rural communities where this is an obstacle to progress.
Similarly, Joe Bartmann, president of Dakota Resources, said, "More leaders are not needed in rural communities. The old way of directing is obsolete. Something must change to engage the community as a whole so that it becomes empowered to embrace the vision that it has for its community and for it to become the place where it wants to live. "
There are people full of energy for change coming up in our rural communities. They are creative, passionate and want to change existing leadership systems and organizations to fit a more independent citizen base. This emerging system allows more people to step up their efforts and support the creation of a thriving community. Things like the work / life mix need to be taken into account and work on what matters to individuals and their crowd.
Aha! # 3 – Make prosperity more important than growing your community!
The leader of the Argus group recently published the following title: "Rural South Dakota loses inhabitants while bigger metros win." You can not just read the titles to get the full story. Jessica Schad, from the University of South Dakota Data Center, provided the numbers to prove the truth of these headlines and also said, "The loss of population does not mean that communities are not strong.
Many small towns are beginning to look differently at how they define and measure success in rural South Dakota. Instead of measuring the success of the traditional sales tax and population growth, these communities look at what matters to them and create their own clues and definition of success.
There is a new emerging rural and it looks like a place where the community is:
- Make prosperity more important than growth.
- Filled with brave people ready to have difficult conversations; to face the reality of what they have been and where they are going.
- Empower people to participate in planning and creating local results.
- Build spaces that create community connections through education, arts, culture, etc.
- Become a non-connoisseur a community willing to ask questions and find the answers together, rather than pretending to need to know all the answers.
- Recognize and embrace the many visions lived in the community.
Together, we can become the architects of a new prosperous rural world. Let's free old stereotypes and visions of our past to create the community in which we all want to live. And the key to this happening is that we all have to continue to appear again and again, even the old white guys. #Irrural
About Paula Jensen
Paula Jensen's passion for personal and professional life is her passion for community development and leadership. Paula resides in her home town of Langford, South Dakota, whose population is over 318 years old. She is a grant writer and community coach for Dakota Resources, based in Renner, South Dakota. Dakota Resources is a 501c3 community development financial institution with the goal of stimulating financial and human investments in rural communities that invest in their activities. Contact her at [email protected]