While the idea of living in a small town is considered idyllic, think Mayberry from the Andy Griffith Show, the reality can be anything but. It’s true that in many small towns you can walk down the street and know almost everyone, if not by name at least being able to recognize their face. Knowing the comings and goings of neighbors, who is having a rough patch and who is thriving, all these things are benefits of living in a place with more land than people.
One major downside to small rural towns is the ability to keep them thriving. While Mayberry magically had resources and a good economy, actual small towns must figure out a way to provide for their citizens. Small towns are now competing with neighboring larger cities as well as the internet and online shopping. Along without fighting outside forces small towns often have to do battle internally as well. Many get stuck due to younger generations working outside the town, causing them to often leave due to drive times, resources, schools, ect. This often leaves older generations, who have the time and availability, in charge of local government and other resources. This can often cause a divide as the town needs to grow and change in order to keep the younger families, however change can be difficult and even a little painful and if those younger generations are not represented within the local government or in places of decision making their needs will not be met.
Recently a man named Ross Devol and the Walton Family Foundation completed a study on small towns in the United States. The research concludes that small-town America has big-time potential for economic growth, which will help boost the nation’s economy and has the potential to bridge the economic gaps between the United States micropolitan and metropolitan areas. The research found that small towns with strong economic performance share several key traits, such as: travel, tourism and recreation as key industries; prevalence of professional services; a culture of entrepreneurship; and research universities and 4-year colleges. Only seven Midwestern communities finished in The Top 50 Most Dynamic Micropolitan Areas, per the Walton Family Foundation: No. 7 Findlay, Ohio; No. 29 Effingham, Illinois; No. 31 Bardstown, Kentucky; No. 41 Spirit Lake, Iowa; No. 46 Auburn, Indiana; No. 48 Angola, Indiana; and No. 49 Brookings, South Dakota.
After all the research was completed Devol and the Walton Foundation put together a list of seven key traits to foster in order to have a thriving small community; Have a greater awareness of local entrepreneurship and support it .Work with local community colleges and high schools to encourage entrepreneurship as an alternate career path. Train young people in the skills that major employers demand. Focus on their niche industries. Refine their central value proposition. Recognize the importance that arts and museums play in attracting people and firms. Constantly evaluate the total portfolio of offerings as a business destination.
If we want to keep our small towns thriving its important to look at the research done by others and make use of the vast resources available. Embracing change and understanding the different doesn’t inherently mean bad, as well as looking at what those larger cities are doing right and adopting what works to fit into a smaller community. If we can do this then we can keep our small city from eventually dying out.