Archive for April, 2010


April 3, 2010

Even with Herculean efforts of small rural communities to keep “their spot on the map” by trying to retain the young most highly educated youth, the siphoning of human and social capital necessary to sustain smaller rural communities to more urban locations will continue to incrementally neuter economic and civic sustainability of smaller rural communities.

New population growth will be necessary to sustain rural community institutions and infrastructure.  New residents must come from urban “transplants”, foreign immigration and an increased native population “birth rate”.

Without this remedy – significant population infusion – modern era ghost towns will take the place of many American small town rural communitieProduct Detailss.

Our rural education system sponsors and contributes to this trend, according to Patrick J. Carr and Maria J. Kefalas authors of Hollowing Out the Middle – The Rural Brain Drain and What it means to America.

The authors offer a strong argument that educators, very early in the student life cycle, target the “achievers – the best and brightest” for pursuit of two-year and four-year educational programs and careers that will require them, almost always, to move from the rural community to finish their education or to secure employment in their chosen technical field.

They also spot the “seekers”, students with good education skills but, due to the lack motivation or desire, leave them seeking something better than the career and lifestyle offered in a rural small town, quite often filled by military service or other structured lifestyle.

The remainder, the “stayers”, are viewed as having less ability than achievers or seekers. They remain home often employed in comparative slow growth and lower wage positions, due to the lack of education, lack of available jobs and lack motivation to relocate for higher wage job opportunities.

Then there are the “returners”, a group of “achievers” and “seekers” which “boomerang” back home after exploring and experiencing life in other places so different from what they “started out with” acknowledging that reality failed to live up to their personal wishes.

Carr and Kefalas offer several solutions to the Hollowing Out and Brain Drain of small town rural America.

            Discover the Rural Crisis

The authors note the “urban crisis” has a Presidential cabinet level position while rural development falls under the Department of Agriculture, in a “fourth in line” department.  They conclude this “fourth in line” position showcases that rural development is not a major concern in national policy and should be remedied with a cabinet level position.

             Build It and They Will Come

Based on Richard Florida’s Creative-Class theory, build with government resources creative-class non metropolitan small towns (the Michigan Cool Cities Model).  Apply the idea that, if we build the social and human infrastructure the creative-class will come including the well-educated entrepreneurs that will create the social and human capital and jobs necessary to sustain rural communities.

             Retool Small Towns for a Global Economy

Wean small town economies from their historic reliance upon agriculture and manufacturing adapting them to the post industrial global economy – with emphasis on “information transportation” which makes clustering of workforce “skill sets” independent of the physical place of the specific business.   Rural residents can have an “urban job” while living in a small town as long as the small town is “information transportation” connected.

             Embrace Immigration

Population growth in small towns is the “key” to increased social and human capital necessary to sustain the social and civic infrastructure. This new population also brings the need for goods and services that expand the local economy, sustaining existing retailers and service providers plus providing demand for new businesses to serve the expanding population.

             Economic Gardening

Establish local based economic development programs that accelerate new business formation especially those catering to existing needs and future needs of the perceived growing population, typically with help and financing from local and state resources.

             Free Land Programs

For many years, communities were willing to “give away” sites to an industry willing to locate in their community.   Today, new residents are being treated similarly in many communities.  The free-land concept is offered in recognition that a new household results in children in the schools, church parishioners, club members, new business customers and “yes” new tax payers.  The enlightened view is that free land is an incentive to stimulate the local economy.

While geographic identity politics stress the need to keep community identity – our place on the map –  the continual incremental exodus of rural small town youth, especially locally educated talent necessary to sustain the long-term social and civic infrastructure, erodes the viability of many rural small towns – a prescription for slow death and creation of another modern ghost town.

No one wants a “drive-by community” with an abandoned bank and boarded-up stores on Main Street. 

The authors offer a number of specific economic development actions which may spur a “ghost busting” revitalization effort.