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Can We Stop the Death ?
Can We Stop the Death of Rural
Communities in America?
Let’s cut through the “BS” and get right down to the roots of the problem – Midwestern rural areas and communities in America are losing its population and sustainability mainly due to higher death rates than birth rates, and more people moving away than moving in.
That’ right – I said that more rural area people are dying than the rate of those being born. Add to that there are more people moving out of rural areas than are moving in, and you have established a blueprint that forecasts the death of our rural communities and a long enjoyed way of life.
Most rural areas have a high percentage of citizens who are 65+ years old, which means these areas have fewer people of child-bearing age. Age-related deaths also are a major contributor to these areas’ declining populations.
Now as for the issues of people migrating out of our rural areas. There seems to be an answerable question – “What can we do to avoid a mass exodus of our younger area citizens?”
Financially it is becoming more expensive to live in rural American than ever before!
So, let’s break it down into 4 basic areas, plus look at the populations’ mindset towards change –
*Jobs & Wages: Limited job opportunities and often pay scales that notoriously border on the poverty level (as comparable to those in larger populated areas).
*Housing: The problem of housing affordability, long a concern in popular big cities, has now moved to the rural areas and the country. Nearly every rural county in America has seen a sizeable increase in home ownership costs – and nearly one-fourth of our home owners spend at least half their income on housing payments, an issue economists refer to as the problem of “severely cost-burdened.”
*Utilities & Roads: Infrastructure maintenance has become a big expense. Declining populations have placed the burden of financing on those who have remained faithful to their community. However, these costs will only continue to rise for those who are willing to remain and “bit the bullet”!
*Shopping: From Food to Funerals – Rural community merchants seem to be fighting an uphill battle with competing with the “Big Box Stores” and in reality they will most likely lose the war. But today, these local merchants only seem to be going through the motions as retail or service outlets. They seem to have forgotten to sell their most important commodities – themselves; their location; their constant availability and reliability; their honesty in offering a quality product at a reasonable price; and finally that they are in business to meet their customers’ needs – not just their own.
*Attitude: We need to look at this as if it were a triangle: on one side are those who like the way it is and has always been – another side represents those that talk big thoughts, but fail to
produce results when it comes to action – the last side (usually the smallest) are those who do everything possible to save the lifestyle they love (and are willing to fight tooth and toenail to preserve Rural America).
What side do you gravitate towards?
But if prosperity is your only goal – prosperity is usually defined as relative to the nation as a whole. So, to qualify as prosperous – a county must have low poverty rates, low unemployment rates, low high school dropout rates, and low rates of housing problems – and must do better overall than the nation on all four of the above criteria.
However, if prosperity and survival top your list. The following are but a few hints that seemed to have aided other rural areas and communities survive throughout this great land of ours. And who knows – with the right people and lots of stick-to-itiveness and hard work – they just might give Chautauqua County the opportunity to be around another 144 years.
Hospitals and Medical Care:
Rural regions across the country are facing the loss of their hospitals and doctors. This wave of closures poses huge burdens for those in need of urgent care, and can be a matter of life-and-death in emergencies. Chautauqua County already has an upper hand in this area – but who knows what the future may bring.
Strong Small Schools:
Small schools have long been a drawing card for rural communities. Communities that make a commitment to provide a quality education in small, community-based schools and invest in them will always have a powerful advantage in attracting young families with children. However, the teaching of skills toward localized employment opportunities seem to have taken a back seat to high-tech services.
A Sense of Community:
Many people long to live in a community where people know and care about each other. It’s not surprising, surveys on happiness and life satisfaction suggest the factor most strongly correlated with satisfaction is regular contact with a network of friends – community. Community involvement seems to be losing ground with both businesses and the local youth in many communities.
High Speed Internet Service:
Today it’s a necessity. Young people see it as a contributor to their quality of life. It also enables communities to connect to the outside world in a way that brings cultural and other amenities of distant places closer. That old saying “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” – well that’s all it is , an old saying.
Access to Nature and a Quality Environment:
In the future, access to uncrowded natural land will be increasingly hard to come by, and it will be an increasingly valuable asset for communities. Communities that offer it will have a leg up in attracting families to start businesses and drive revitalization. Access to a quality environment also offers a base for tourism-related businesses like bed and breakfasts and guest ranches that offer a weekend away within an easy commute from large population centers. This is one of the factors where farm and ranch communities have a natural advantage.
* * * * *
Here are five ideas on giving growth to a rural business:
- Cultivate a barn-raising mind-set. Host local economic-development meetings and occasionally lend one of your employees to their efforts. Investments in infrastructure provide a crucial foundation for rural enterprise. These types of collaborations also support business owners in job creation and build relationships that can open doors to new business opportunities.
- Look for underserved markets. Offer products and services that meet the needs of the many diverse sectional populations within your community. Business owners who cultivate rich community connections within these well-established networks can grow their customer bases in small towns and rural areas.
- Tap into social media. Engage your neighbors online. A sound social-media strategy can improve the assets of your community, raise local awareness of your business, and create more revenue for your business over time. Except for remote outposts, virtual collaborative communities are equally accessible to both rural and urban business owners — an example of one arena that offers rural entrepreneurs a similarly competitive position to their urban counterparts.
- Expand your reach. Grow your rural business through e-commerce. Check out The National e-Commerce Extension Initiative, which offers mini-grants to help rural entrepreneurs launch e-commerce strategies.
- Invest in your community. Invest philanthropically in more local causes, set a goal averaging a minimum of one volunteer effort monthly.
Winston Churchill once said –
However, Ole ChuckWagon Charlie’s take is –
“Physical riches can only be carried in yur’ pocket – but sharin’ knowledgeable richness’s with yur’ neighbors – well, I reckon then the whole world becomes yur’ bank.”
– Jim Chase