By John Crabtree, firstname.lastname@example.org
Some say that “conventional wisdom” tells us that economic decline in rural communities is somehow inevitable, a product of inexorable forces of…something, but that part never quite makes sense to me.
Economic decline in rural communities is not an inevitable phenomenon. There is no “invisible economic hand” at the throat of rural America. The economic decline experienced by many rural communities is a result, in the largest part, of public policies – choices, made by people, which can be changed by people, if we have the courage and determination to do so.
In the small Southwest Nebraska town of Stratton, Terry and Chrissy Latta have built a growing business where some might have told them not to bother. The Lattas have courageously demonstrated that there is economic opportunity in rural Nebraska communities.
In 2002 the Lattas established Final Touch Auto Body in Stratton and have seen steady business growth since. The business start-up was assisted by the Center for Rural Affairs’ Rural Enterprise Assistance Program, McCook National Bank of Stratton, and Southwest Nebraska Community Betterment Corporation. Unconventional? Yes, and a good thing for Stratton.
The Center for Rural Affairs has found that in the most rural farm-dependent counties the majority of new job creation results from non-farm proprietorships – people creating their own job by starting a small business, like the Lattas. And rural microenterprise development and rural entrepreneurship are increasingly becoming a force in rural economic development.
Sheffield, Iowa is not Lyons, Nebraska (both are towns where I have lived), and compared to Seattle or Chicago, both are quite “unconventional.” But both would benefit from public policies that support and invest in rural economic development focused on small business and microenterprise development. Both would benefit from public policies that support and build on the assets already found in those communities. And all of rural America would benefit from more of such “unconventional” thinking.
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