Results of the 2019 Rural Challenges Survey

What inhabitants of small towns see as their biggest challenges

And what are the rural people most in need of help?

Would not it be great if people who say they want to help rural people really listen to their own challenges ?! That's why we created this survey!

We use the results to create practical steps that will help you shape a better future for your city. Your answers are also shared with other people who work with rural communities through articles and articles in the media.

With the help of these survey results, we have developed a free video of the steps you can take to shape the future of your city or the cities you serve.

Get the video of the steps of the action

The survey asks rural people what are the challenges they want the most help from and what steps they are taking to address them. The results do not correspond to the common themes of media coverage and political discussions around rural communities.

  • Do rural populations focus on well-known crises such as opioid addiction or poverty? No, other challenges have been selected much more often. Crime and drug abuse ranked in the last five standard choices. In their own words, fewer than a dozen people each mentioned drug abuse or poverty. Three times more people mentioned negative or angry people as a major challenge with which they would like to be helped.
  • Are most rural communities devastated by the loss of factories, mine closures or damaging natural disasters? No, "our city has suffered a terrible blow" remains one of the least chosen options on all three parts of the survey in 2015, 2017 and 2019.
  • Is the lack of small business loans a big challenge in small towns? The need for a business loan was not listed as one of the top five challenges. More than twice as many people chose the lack of good employees as a challenge.

The top five concerns at the community level this year are very similar to the results of 2017 and 2015.

  1. Losing young people
  2. Downtown is dead
  3. Not enough good housing
  4. Need new residents
  5. Nobody goes shopping in town

"Losing young people" and "Downtown is dead" dominated the top two rankings in 2015, 2017 and 2019. "Not enough good housing" is a new entry that was not chosen as a choice in the surveys of 2017 or 2015. "No one is shopping in town" also appears in the top 5 of the three series of the survey.

Here is a chart of all the choices offered in the 2019 survey ranked by order of frequency of choice. (Click to enlarge)

Question 1 - Which of these rural challenges would you be enthusiastic about if we talked more about confronting them? Choose as much as you would love to know more. Answers: Losing our young people 48%. The downtown area is 47% dead. Not enough good housing 46%. Need new residents 39%. Nobody goes shopping in town 38%. Missing tourism opportunities 35%. Nothing to do here 35%. Another challenge 30%. Terrible internet service 28%. Nobody does 25% volunteer work. Crime and drug addiction 23%. Everyone is fighting 21%. Local stores are out of reach by 20%. The city suffered a 10% blow. Nobody uses social media 7%.

Nearly half of those surveyed identified themselves as current or potential owners of small businesses. Here are the top five challenges they have chosen.

  1. I can not find good employees
  2. Marketing does not work
  3. People buy from online competitors
  4. Late opening without success
  5. Need a business idea

A new choice, "Unable to find good employees" was chosen by more than 50% of respondents, making it the number one challenge. He replaced a previous choice, "Need help but can not hire," in the top 5.

"Marketing does not work" has always been second, and "Open late hours without success" remains in the top 5 of the three surveys. Online competition has moved to 3rd place this year, 6th in 2017 and 2015. The search for a business idea has returned to the top 5 after going to 9th in 2017.

Here is a chart of all the choices offered in the 2019 survey ranked by order of frequency of choice. (Click to enlarge)

Which of these rural business challenges would you be excited about if we talked about them? Choose as much as you would love to know more. Answers: Can not find good employees 53%. Marketing does not work 31%. Online competitors 25%. Late hours not working 23%. Need a business idea 23%. Can not get a loan of 22%. Need a usable building 22%. Need to sell 18% business. Juggle with several companies 16%. Hateful business plans 14%. I hate to do 13%.

A new question in 2019 asked people what they or their community were trying to address their challenges. The four choices ranked in this order.

  1. Traditional economic development groups
  2. Copy of informal ideas
  3. Official programs
  4. Other things

Traditional economic development was clearly the top choice with more than 75%, and informal copy of ideas was chosen in more than 50% of the responses.

When offered the opportunity to share more with their own words about challenges, what works or whatever, 389 people shared more. Their answers can be grouped into these general categories with positive and negative thematic answers.

  1. Government, management or officials
  2. Trade and economic issues
  3. Community Teamwork, Volunteers and Commitment
  4. Non-government programs such as Main Street, Chamber of Commerce and many others
  5. Staff, employees or jobs

Here are some individual answers.

  • Teamwork is what works and works best. What does not work, is to think that the pool of money is the [economic development group] or Room [of Commerce]
  • There is a group of us who are willing to try new things and look for ideas. There are some in town who are stuck in the old way of doing things. We start small and I think the big one will come. With each idea, it seems like more ideas are starting to happen.
  • The empty building tour worked well. We will plan another one for the fall. Making everyone work together does not work well.
  • After losing some important employers, some people opened businesses, as well as spinoffs related to the remaining businesses. Landing the "big", outside employer, has not been a success.
  • A group of progressive young leaders (30 to 55 years old) came together to celebrate what is good in our community and get things moving.

Each community is different and different people within the same community can see challenges and opportunities differently.

What was the diversity of survey respondents? An open question invited people to say if there were ways to think of themselves as diverse, and 278 people chose to answer. Some responded with their own personal diversity, but most answered about their community as a whole.

More communities considered more diversified than improbable

More than fifty percent more people said their communities were diverse than the number of people who said their communities were not diverse. More than 70 people said their community is now diverse or increasingly diverse. Another 43 responded with an average or uncertainty; and 42 said no, not various or irrelevant.

The 5 most common descriptive responses have been grouped into these approximate categories.

  1. Color, race, ethnicity or cultural origin
  2. Age
  3. Education, skills or use of technology
  4. Companies, liberal professions or trade
  5. Cultures, ideas and ways of thinking

The grouping of cultures and ways of thinking includes common differences of perspective such as new residents versus long-term residents, farm versus city, city / urban vs. rural / small town, and residents full-time compared to part-time residents.

The gender spectrum and LGBTQIA diversity appeared in more than 50 responses. Diversity of income or class, disability, family composition, religion, political opinion and military service were also mentioned.

Deb Brown and Becky McCray, co-founders of Save Your Dot Town

With the help of these survey results, Becky McCray and Deb Brown have developed a special video of the steps you can take to shape the future of your city or the cities you serve. There is no charge.

Get the video of the steps of the action

Press and media information

You will find more information about the methodology, discussion points for the media and links to previous surveys on our Inquiry page.

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About Becky McCray

Becky launched Small Biz Survival in 2006 to share stories and ideas about rural affairs and community development with other small business people. She and her husband have a small cattle ranch and are life entrepreneurs. Becky is an international speaker on small business and rural issues.

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