Do all the small towns die? Can you save a small town?

Neligh, Nebraska. J. Stephen Conn's CC photo on Flickr.

There has been too many years of disinterest and disinvestment in rural America and sometimes I get tired of defending the value of the rural place that I call in a national audience. I've read many articles on the rural subclass and the poverty that plagues our landscape in Bloomberg Business, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. One of these articles written by Paul Krugman stated,

"Once upon a time, there was scattered agriculture that ensured the survival of small towns serving rural hinterlands. But for generations, we live in an economy in which small towns have nothing for them, with the exception of historical luck, which tends to run out. "

I have to ask: does your community live in this fairy tale and only have historical luck, as suggested by the author? Or do you invest in your community and take responsibility for the inherent change that is affecting your future?

We have all heard about the evolution of the rural landscape from a national point of view … population decline, low household median income, high poverty, high unemployment, low wages, dilapidated housing, main streets in decomposition, etc. Yet, according to the 2010 census done by Ben Winchester of the University of Minnesota's Extension Service,

"People in small towns can stop talking negatively about what their city has lost or what it is. Changes in the rural Midwest are almost all microcosms of globalization. The rural is changing, not dying "

On the subject of change, Ray Kurzweil, author of The singularity is close States

"At the rate of change indicated, we will experience the equivalent of 20,000 years of change during this century."

This kind of quick change means that we have more choices and less time to make those choices. Rural communities today and those who want to lead them need to be prepared for this environment. According to my observations, successful communities are connected to: data, external resources, other communities, committed residents and global trends. Having an overview of this ever-evolving knowledge base prepares communities to move forward quickly.

Here is a story from Neligh, Nebraska. Neligh is a community that has refused to start its history with an era or to slip into the darkness. Since 2012, this community of 1,600 people has experienced a huge reinvestment. Neligh welcomed 27 new companies – a 17% increase in the total number of companies – and transferred 14 companies to new businesses. Antelope County has invested more than $ 600 million. In a few years, when they have completed all the projects in their pipeline, capital investments will generate $ 1 billion. Neligh did not pull his boots alone. They asked for help. Their network of partners is extensive: engaged citizens, local businesses, non-profit organizations, educational community, elected officials, etc.

This story may seem like an overwhelming task or a unique success story. However, I am here to tell you that this type of local development is realistic and is starting to take root in many small communities because they invest themselves! Your community can replicate this type of development when residents like you are willing to participate and do the internal work necessary to build a culture of community development, clarify local values ​​and set priorities. This internal work is then counterbalanced by external forces (resource providers, peer networks, investors, developers, etc.) while seeking regular feedback, support and advice from empowered community residents.

Let's invest in rural areas and build a culture of community development in which we are not too small to have everything. #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 that aims to stimulate financial and human investment in rural communities that invest in their communities. Contact her at [email protected]

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