Why is it that some rural communities seem to be thriving, while others are withering away?
That was the question that Illinois author Jack Schultz posed several years ago as he was conducting research for his book Boomtown USA: 7-1/2 Keys to Big Success in Small Towns.
Schultz says, “Every community comes to forks in the road, where decisions must be made. Some do well, others may not.”
As for the “why” to those outcomes, Schultz says it is often due to attitude of the community. A “Can Do” attitude tops Shultz’s list of keys to success.
He shares several examples of communities that overcame the odds and with a can-do attitude found success – Cabela’s was started by a family in the small rural town of Sidney, NE; Leavenworth, WA, was facing a loss of jobs and population so it converted itself into a quaint Bavarian tourist community; Tuepelo, MS, worked together as a region and has now reinvented itself as the furniture capital of the south; Hope, ND, has brought in a specialty pasta company that has created jobs for locals and a market for grain farmers.
Another important key, according to Schultz is to encourage an entrepreneurial approach. “This holds the future and will take communities forward,” he says.
Specifically, he tells communities to spend less time out hunting for what he calls the “big white elephant companies” and instead “plant gardens of entrepreneurs in our own communities.”
Schultz himself has started 13 businesses. He reports that 7 of them were “disasters,” but he learned from them and that’s what helped his other attempts be successful, and he says, communities need to be willing to take that risk as well.
He adds that it is important to reach out and be encouraging of the entrepreneurial spirit, as it can come from all sectors – retirees, women, veterans, even kids.
He is especially adamant that by instilling an entrepreneurial attitude in the youth in communities it will result in a more prosperous rural America. Of this, Schultz says rather than focus on the brain drain, he says to focus on building a brain bank. He adds that young people may leave the community for awhile, but often they will come back as they raise their families and/or retire, because of the lifestyle that small, rural communities offer. Schultz says that if those individuals have been fostered with an entrepreneurial spirit it will better enable them to return and create success.
Schultz adds that with the Internet a global market for any imaginable product can be created from virtually anywhere.
As one example of this, a Garden City, KS, woman started the Prairie Tumbleweed Farm online and offered to ship tumbleweeds anywhere in the world for $15-25. She has since had a thriving business shipping tumbleweeds for wedding décor, television shows, the Smithsonian Museum, and even clothing designer Ralph Lauren. (See her site at www.prairietumbleweedfarm.com.)
Working together is also a key to rural community success that Schultz promotes. He says, “People in small towns don’t work together like they should.” He calls it Friday Night Lights Syndrome, saying, “Just because we play against each other on Friday night at sporting events shouldn’t mean we can’t get along on Monday morning.”
To that end, Schultz says communities can be much more powerful and successful by working together to create regional entities that draw dollars to their communities – be it manufacturing or tourism.
He says, “Networking and regionalism is key. Counties need to work together. Find something your “region” is known for and develop that to benefit the entire region.”
Along with this, he says to build a brand for the region. He gives the examples of Napa Valley, now known for wine, and Branson known for music. He suggests taking those approaches and doing similar brand building for your own region.
Schultz concludes that the key for communities is to take action when they come to forks in the road – because sitting on the fence doesn’t lead to anywhere.
For more about Schultz’s book and his daily blog visit www.boomtowninstitute.com.