“SOMETIMES BIG PROBLEMS ARE BEST SOLVED WITH LOTS OF
SMALL AND CREATIVE SOLUTIONS.”
Ricardo Salinas Pliego
Do you really care about the loss of population and opportunities in your rural communities? Are you better at setting and bemoaning the drain of people and resources than seeking answers to your problems? If you are then just move on this story is not for you.
BUT if you are concerned and would like to actually do something about the drain on people, business, income, and tax base, lets talk about fixing things.
I am always in awe of people who are positive and try to make a difference. I want to single out Marcie Penner and Wendee LaPlant for the work they have tirelessly done with the KANSAS SAMPLER FOUNDATION to bring attention to our communities and people who believe in Kansas and in promoting the great quality of life we have here.
I have attended multiple seminars that the Sampler Foundation sponsored and am in awe of the great towns that do something about using the resources that they have and then blowing their own horns about them. If you do not bring attention to yourself then you are overlooked. And to those towns who are content to let everything deteriorate and just be dwindling retirement communities, why are you content to just let others worry about how things are going in your areas?
The common denominator that the successful rural areas have is the amount of local support and willingness to roll up their sleeves and tackle problems head on.
So what are you willing to do to reverse the trends? Each area has to reevaluate themselves and make a list of the strong points and the weak points in their communities. Then there needs to be a wish list of things that each individual would like to see in their community.
Nothing is better than having one or more individuals that are willing to put their capital on the line and create jobs. Jobs are key. Off farm jobs are instrumental in the survival of the family farm today. When farms grow to the ‘mega farm’ size there is not a lot of contribution in wages in the area. Today the huge machinery is so efficient that labor is minimized. A farm that in my day would have had 5 or more people working in the fields are now down to 2. Agriculture has had to adapt to low prices, expensive inputs, and an increasing technology that requires advanced degrees to operate. At least some of the kids are coming home to farm, but it is still difficult for a new farmer to start up on his own.
The solution may be as simple, or complex, as starting a community foundation to search for companies for sale and bring them to the community. There is a huge number of opportunities as the ‘baby boomers’ are retiring and are selling their companies.
It may be as easy as simply doing business with local and regional companies for many things that are made and sold in Kansas. This rather than going to a foreign supplier. Maybe the continued push for warehousing students in large facilities could be reversed and the schools in the small towns be retained and modernized. Technology is ruling the business world so why are the proven benefits of smaller classroom size and more individual instruction not prized more than busing students for hours each day?
There are several keys to the decline of a small town. First is losing their school. Second is losing their doctor. Next is losing their grocery store and then the local cafe. These do not have to happen in order but the number is on how the loss devastates a community.
OK, we can all identify the problems now can we try and identify the solutions? There are several things that are known to work but almost each solution requires identifying, bringing the community together to propose solutions, and then actually doing them.
Have you tried something new? The oldest cop out in the world is “we have never done it that way.” Trying the same thing over and over and expecting different results is the definition of insanity. I know rural people, I am rural, I know that we produce workers that have a work ethic. We have workers that have a bit of common sense that don’t stand around for someone to come fix a problem for them, they tackle the problem head on and fix it.
There are many ways and people that can help if you decide that you have to do something and not wait for the area to become a ghost town. All ghost towns started with high hopes and all faced disappointments. The reason they are gone is that they did not do what it took to survive. Your town is here today because it did take on the fates and strove to survive.
At this point in time do not be the generation that let things close down and give up all hope for the future. We do not have to join the inner-cities of the country and live in poverty and despair waiting for some politician to come to the rescue.
Ask the first question in order to go on to solutions. Waiting for someone else to do it has a predetermined outcome.