Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Making Small Towns Cool Again

We have a question: "Can small towns ever be a cool place to live in this day and age?"

According Dave Ivan of Michigan State University Extension, small towns can be cool if they are willing to follow some common success themes.  

Here they are:

1. Encourage strong engagement between citizens, community organizations and local government. For example, in St. Joseph, Mich., city leaders hold neighborhood town hall gatherings in backyards all across town. They also produce a unified community calendar and hand-deliver it to residents. Coopersville, Mich., uses their town entry sign to salute a different nonprofit, business person, and teacher each quarter.

2. Encourage local entrepreneurial investment. In New Carlisle, Indiana, Bill Owens expanded a floral shop into gifts, a furniture store, and transformed the community into a regional destination. This can also be a community initiative. In Ord, Neb., they developed a wealth transfer plan to strategically fund their community economic development initiatives. By asking people to give 5% of their estate back to the community, they now have $8.5 million in hand or in pledges.

3. Embrace change. This may be the hardest part for many towns. New opportunities may require changes in all sorts of local laws, including zoning or change of leadership.

4. Actively pursue cultural elements to economic development. Think about Wilber and the job that community does with Czech Days? Why do people from miles around descend on that town in August? It can work.

5. Reach out to community youth. It's simple -- the young people of today are the future of our community, including in Dorchester.  Let's get them involved in event planning and organizations and our business community.  One idea started by a small town in Michigan was to ask high school students to take pictures of what they like and dislike about the town, and have them present it at a future meeting. We adults need to see the world through younger eyes, too.

7. Retaining youth and attracting families. Create economic choices that are appealing to youth. Ord, Neb., for example, has a youth entrepreneurship program starting in grade schools. Another Nebraska town gave kids a mailbox with their name on it with a note that read: "We will always going to be your hometown. Go out, explore, learn, but come back home."

8. Know that, in the long run, you may have to do the work yourself. Cool small towns are not waiting for an outside savior. Argonia, Kan., lost their grocery store.  But they built a community convenience and grocery store. They are now building spec houses to sell at cost to new families. And if you enroll kids in the school, Argonia will even cover your closing costs. 

Dave Ivan says these are the keys to strong leadership and cool small towns.  Most importantly, he advises to stand up to the CAVE people (Citizens Against Virtually Everything).

1 comment:

  1. This was a wonderful post, however I think it needs to be read by everyone. In fact, it should be posted on local bulletin boards at the Post Office, the School, the Bar, the Co-Op, the Legion, the Library, and the Fire Hall. There could be a contest for the best essay on why this is important to you as a student in several age groups at the school. Another contest for adults as to how to make this work for you: as a business person, a civic group, or even as a member of this great town. It should be the theme of the Fourth of July celebration. There are a great many smart, innovative people in this community, tap this resource and let us see what comes of it!


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