This is the second of several reports from the Making Place Matter in Northwest Oklahoma Rural Community Economic Development Summit held in Alva on June 3, 2010.
A session on community building covered a wide range of topics, from the Main Street approach, to supporting local businesses, rural tourism, rural grocery stores, the participation of young people, rural tourism, and service projects closer to home.
Linda Barnett represented Oklahoma Main Street. The Main Street approach teaches communities to put together a team and get things done, she said. A listing of the four point approach is available on the Oklahoma Main Street homepage.
They teach people to raise money in innovative ways, Barnett said. Small business owners are tired of being solicited over and over in small communities. In one unusual community fundraiser, children collected enough pennies to line the sidewalk all the way around the courthouse.
Oklahoma’s Main Street provides extensive support services, including architecture, interior design, and business development.
“Every community needs a sparkplug to get things done,” Barnett said.
“I say BE the sparkplug,” attendee Laura Girty tweeted.
|Marci Penner leads a break|
out session on rural tourism
Kansas Sampler Foundation
Kansas Sampler Foundation was represented by Marci Penner and WenDee LaPlant.
The mission of Kansas Sampler is to promote and sustain rural communities, and includes many diverse initiatives.
“Help your community be the best it can be at being itself,” Penner said. “Don’t try to be something you’re not.”
“What we do as a foundation is fill voids,” Penner said. They focus on what organizations like the Department of Commerce, Main Street, etc., don’t do. This is what lead them to the rural grocery store project.
The health of the local grocery store is a barometer for the community’s ability to get along, Penner said. If people are supporting the store, they can work together to accomplish more. If they aren’t supporting that store, they are not likely to work together. It takes a $10,000 grocery delivery each week to get the wholesale truck to stop. Maybe five cents more for a loaf of bread is worth it, she said.
Penner is involved in presenting the Rural Grocery Store Summit, in Kansas, which is drawing a global
audience. The goal is to support the survival of rural and small town grocery stores.
“More than money, we need creative thought, social invention,” she said. “To me the small towns that make it, are the ones that have the will to survive.”
“I’d like to see our legislature value our volunteer led towns more in their decision making,” she said. “Now, if we don’t value our towns, who will?”
Our job as leaders is to empower people who choose to live in those towns, Penner said, shifting the conversation to young people. The Foundation is starting Power Up Kansas, and young residents ages 21 to 39 are the power ups, the ones who are rural residents by choice. It is similar to the Young Professionals programs in cities.
Asking one young person to serve on a board is a token, Penner said. Power Up Kansas is about asking them as a group what they want to do to shape the new rural and letting them lead it.
Tourism is one of the main focuses of the Kansas Sampler Foundation. Their 8 rural culture elements help towns discover their tourism potential. Penner said they work with Explorer type people, the kind of people who like to get out an explore small towns.
Mark Riffey, who followed the discussion online, said that geocaching is a great way to attract explorer types to your community.
The 8 Wonders of Kansas project, based off of the 8 elements of rural culture, has drawn enormous interest, and highlights some gems in Kansas, Penner said. More than one small town has been surprised to find out that something they take for granted is of interest to visitors. One example is the Davis Memorial in Hiawatha, Kansas. Get Rural Kansas is the result of many workshops by the Foundation to bring small town leaders together to learn how to create their online presence.
Talking of quirky business hours and closing down for high school sports, Penner said to give the reasons to the world why we do things that are quirky. Then it’s part of our charm.
Another project Penner presented is the WeKAN bank. It lets small town businesses put their needs in the bank, and Explorers come and help them out, by doing business makeovers, etc. They brought 100 people to help owner Rosa refurbish the Whiting Cafe.
“Why can’t we do these service trips in our own country, too?” Penner asked.
The next report will cover the keynote by Dr. Glenda Humiston, Director of Rural Development for USDA California.
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Becky started Small Biz Survival in 2006 to share rural business and community building stories and ideas with other small town business people. She and her husband have a small cattle ranch and are lifelong entrepreneurs. Becky is an international speaker on small business and rural topics.