Not every small town can be saved. And maybe we shouldn’t try to save every small town.
If a town can’t get its act together enough to accept help or seek opportunities, should outside groups spend any of their limited time and resources on them? Or should they focus on the ones with the best prospects of success?
When I first had this conversation with a state agency staff member, I was a bit appalled. Don’t the people of those towns deserve a quality of life, too? Is it their fault that the town board is still fighting tooth and nail?
It may be callous, but I’m starting to shift my opinion. All people deserve a quality life, but not all of them will get it. In this era of extremely limited resources, the agencies and funders will have to draw some lines. And if we’re honest, this has been true for a long time.
It’s a self-service world, and the best solutions come from within. You want your town to be saved? Start saving it yourself, as best you can, and know that small successes lead to bigger successes. And successful communities attract more resources. And those who are just begging won’t get much positive attention.
But My Town Sucks…
Let’s be honest. Most towns suck to some degree. Your town is not the only one that is messed up.
You have to start by acting on your own. You do what you can, and it won’t be easy. Build relationships with other like-minded revolutionaries. Savor small, even tiny, victories. Build relationships with the people in neighboring towns, the towns that other people consider enemies. Build relationships with like-minded people online. Draw support from each other and dream up small but meaningful ways to make a difference.
Take the ideas you’ve read here and all those other resources online, and pick one idea. Scale that idea down to do-able, then do it.
Know that you’ll fail, that others will squash your best ideas, that opposition will drive you bananas.
The towns that keep sucking the life out of their residents are going to be the ones that head downhill the fastest. People can be extraordinarily mobile today, and they can choose to invest themselves in any one of the many amazing and cool small towns out there.
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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.