17 Jan OUR RURAL CHALLENGE
“THE SUPREME ART OF WAR IS TO SUBDUE THE ENEMY WITHOUT FIGHTING.”
There had been talk about the failing of the rural areas and how a purely scholastic point of view is for the failing rural areas to shut down and everyone move to the city centers where the jobs are. BALONEY!
Yes the rural areas and small cities are going backwards but there are those bright spots that dispute the trend and are growing and thriving. So what if you are not in one of those areas? Do you leave the door open and walk away and move to where they want to pile you up on level after level? Do you really believe some academic who subscribes to the theory that the entire center of the country ought to be turned back to its pre 1800’s condition. (reference ‘Let the Buffalo Roam’).
I believe there is a bit more spirit and attitude than some Boston College professor and a few organizations like the Sierra Club and the World Wildlife Fund believe. Yes there are problems, but some of them have been brought on my ourselves. The solutions lie not in academia, but within ourselves.
So how to go about this? Pretty simple, we have to put our money where our mouth is and our attitude back to the ‘boomer’ attitude that settled this state (and all rural areas). Before the Depression of 1910 there was a no limit attitude that Kansas could be anything that it wanted to be. After the severe downturn in 1910 the whole state attitude changed.
So how have we shot ourselves in the foot? The first thing is telling our kids as they are growing up to get an education and get out while you can get a good paying job. We literally ran our kids off the farms to the big cities. We find now that many of those who left for the shiny lights and big paychecks, long to return and retire where they grew up.
Farms have been enlarged and consolidated so much that a lot of people simply had to leave in order to survive. Now the new generation of farmers are coming home with degrees and work experience. The old view of the farmer being dumb has finally been replaced by the fact that there is so much to know and so much investment that you have to be pretty smart to be successful. And that does not always guarantee the farm will succeed.
A huge number of farmers all over the country depend on off farm employment in order to keep their rural lifestyle alive. An increasing diversity of farm businesses is changing the face of the old farmer with the pitchfork in his hand.
Many small towns now have a lot of empty buildings that are waiting for someone to come and put them to use. Can a community decide to do something about its own demise? Yes they can. But it takes a lot of vision, planning, and mule headed stubbornness.
In researching my book of Kansas Oddities I have found communities who have diversified and created jobs and industry. Driving through the towns you may not see it right off the bat but for an example drive through Lucas. Did the town who embraces free thought get to where it is just because of being eccentric? No. Besides the tourism you can go to the south side of Lucas and find a manufacturing plant that is providing jobs and allowing farmers and anyone else who wants the unique lifestyle to live there.
This manufacturing facility was part of a Kansas owned company that has expanded over the years and put plants in many cities. The company is now foreign owned but the jobs are still there. Can your town do something like this? Yes it can.
But first you have to put aside preconceived notions. Then take an inventory of what your rural area has to offer. Then you can determine to do something for yourselves.
Many Economic Development people constantly look for companies to attract to their communities. The trouble is that every other area is all looking for the same thing. Many times those who are succeeding have one or more people who do things on their own and it works out wonderfully. But what if you do not have that one or two people who can afford to create something new? Well that is what talking and brainstorming are all about.
Everything is a learning process. You can choose to complain and wring your hands about the future or work on a brainstorming session and make progress happen. Will it be easy? NO. but if you do not start with your own attitude there is no beginning down that road to a strong rural town or economy.
SO, WHAT DO YOU CHOOSE TO DO?