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Thread: Small rural places wanting economic development

  1. #1
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    Small rural places wanting economic development

    I am looking at case studies and thought I would put this out there for recommendations from Cyburbians. I am trying to identify rural communities (under 20,000 people, but preferably smaller) that have been struggling with the need for economic development. What do they need? What have they tried? What ideas have failed to get off the ground?

    I am not looking for examples of "success stories" so much as the places that have a need, want to do something about it, but have not yet figured out how to address it.
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    Cyburbian zman's avatar
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    We are trying it here in a small (3,200 pop.) community in Northern Colorado. We have formed a volunteer committee which wasn't going anywhere until I began working for the town and took the reigns from an oft-absent Board member who was previously Chiar of the committee.

    What we struggle with is that we are a bedroom community in close proximity to other towns that offer ample retail/commericial/employment. While many of my neighbors ask when we are going to get a grocery store in town, we're still short of the population base needed (according to the State of Colo, 4.200 people is needed) and if such a store would open there aren't very many "daytime" residents to patronize the store during daytime hours, so would it be cost-effective to own a grocery store. (Digression, sorry)

    We have some good ideas though and are beginning to work on the retention of local business and might begin creating a business association and a town newsletter (where local business can buy ad space to get the word out as well as offset the costs of printing ).

    We here in the town need more people, but with gas prices, we also need things for people to do/work here in order to prevent a flight of folks leaving.

    As for success, I'll let you know.
    You get all squeezed up inside/Like the days were carved in stone/You get all wired up inside/And it's bad to be alone

    You can go out, you can take a ride/And when you get out on your own/You get all smoothed out inside/And it's good to be alone
    -Peart

  3. #3
    Super Moderator luckless pedestrian's avatar
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    I just formed an economic development committee as we have never had one, have never agreed on economic policy, and have no economic development plan - we are just lucky to be a gateway community to a national park - but there is a desire to be better and enhance the year-round resident's quality of life (not just population)...

  4. #4
    Cyburbian TexanOkie's avatar
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    Our city currently has a population of about 17,000 (up from 1,250 according to the 2000 Census), and most all of our development so far has been single family rooftops. No apartments. Very little commercial and practically non-existent industrial activity. We do have a large mixed-use project in the works, but the city's been trying to land industrial activity and basic commercial activity like grocery stores for a couple of years now to no avail. We formed an economic development corporation, but they have been unsuccessful in their attempts to bid for large industrial projects (like new car manufacturing plants, where we have two failures). We don't understand what we're doing wrong - we're going by the book, we're in Texas and have a corporate and business-friendly regulatory structure, we have adequate infrastructure (a brand-spanking-new toll road that connects to I-35 opened up less than 2 years ago), we're within 30 minutes of both downtown Austin and Bergstrom International Airport. Our EDC director goes to development conferences from New York to Las Vegas trying to lobby for our town and woo some non-residential development. In the meantime, they give incentive packages to projects that, frankly, don't deserve it [poor quality], and our utility impact fees keep increasing because our infrastructure is getting stretched and expensive to keep up with.

    I'm not quite sure if that's what you were looking for, but there's a lot of failure marked by only one success - the 466-acre mixed use project mentioned earlier. We also hope that redoing our development ordinances will help make our community more attractive through a UDC we just started to create, but who knows how well that will work at this point, especially with the recent economic slowdown.

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    Cyburbian Otis's avatar
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    Mine is a small (7,800 pop.) community on the coast, almost completely dependent on tourism. We want economic development to balance the tourist season of summer and spring break. I've always thought a college would be good. Family-wage jobs would be good. Because we are in a desirable location housing costs are vastly above the ability of the median wage earner to afford. This last problem was exacerbated by the housing boom, but has been a problem for many years. Housing prices are not falling as they are in most parts of the country.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian Wannaplan?'s avatar
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    I consult for a small town of 3,500 that has a proactive and talented executive that recently brought in a big project. Another community I work for (population 6,000) continues to have small successes despite an otherwise dismal state economy. The common denominator in each case? Talented staff that is supported by the elected officials. Indeed, there are struggles, but the individuals I am thinking of remain positive and upbeat regardless of the obstacles.

  7. #7
    Cyburbian
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    Rural or Micropolitan Cities and Energy Innovation

    I've been contacting possibly interested parties both locally and elsewhere to determine whether a small community of 20,000, or approximately 10,000 without college students, would be a good location to develop a model sustainable and/or hydrogen or ammonia city. This is to say that grand experiments could be done to test the viability of different energy carriers such as hydrogen, ammonia, and boron. Such a project would be long-term, but the data collected from such innovative endeavors could be helpful to more than just the local community. I've already described this in more detail under the "Post-carbon cities" post in the "Environmental Planning" forum.

  8. #8
    Cyburbian
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    Focus on the supply side. Businesses need a number of things in order to develop. High tech firms, for example, need high tech workers, especially those with experience. Those high tech workers, in turn, need a lot of different things, especially if they have families.

    In general, low taxes, less red tape, good infrastructure, low crime, and a stable, predictable system tend to attract development. If you talk directly with builders and developers, they'll give you the run down on these things. See if you can find Free to Choose, by Rose and Milton Friedman. It's an excellent book covering classical economics, and, IIRC, covers a lot of small town issues, as well.

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally posted by Cardinal
    I am looking at case studies and thought I would put this out there for recommendations from Cyburbians. I am trying to identify rural communities (under 20,000 people, but preferably smaller) that have been struggling with the need for economic development. What do they need? What have they tried? What ideas have failed to get off the ground?

    I am not looking for examples of "success stories" so much as the places that have a need, want to do something about it, but have not yet figured out how to address it.
    Not sure this is what you are looking for Cardinal, but here's my nickel's worth.

    My town in rural south central MN (pop. ~2300) has been struggling for many years. A number of factors are in play.

    First, family farming has been decimated by major agri-corporations, monoculture cropping, and feedlot development. Without a culture that supports smaller, sustainable farming and local food processing, i.e. creameries, canning, freezing, etc., the lack of jobs means the kids leave and don't come back. This turns into not having enough people to support the local merchants that used to exist in small towns. (See Wendell Berry's "The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture.") Those that remain are aging and elderly and/or not that well educated and/or socio-economically disadvantaged. This is not to say there aren't smart people in small towns, only that their numbers are farther and fewer between.

    Second, we used to have local economies. Now we have the global economy with mega-multi-national corporations who like to play smaller cities against each other to see what concessions they'll get and will move in a heartbeat if they get a better deal somewhere else, meaning they have no stake and no loyalty to the community in which they operate. Without stability and a moral stake in the community, such operators are mercenary often leaving these communities worse off socially and financially--see Hormel Austin, MN (if I recall correctly). In essence, towns like my town are thought of as third world countries with cheap labor and nothing more. It must also be noted that we have a sizeable and growing Hispanic population to make up for the labor shortfall at the one remaining industrial plant (canned chicken).

    Many of the people here, because of the third world mentality, has been looking to large employers to relocate here and set up shop in the hopes of providing the town with a lot of "decent" paying jobs. We are too rural for this to be a viable option as all attempts have met with failure.

    We also have people in this town who put their own profit ahead of the good of the town and have prevented smaller operators from setting up shop here.

    Given the state of the economy, the reality of peak oil, the decimation of smaller family farms and local food production and processing, I have been working to get our community to begin thinking about revamping the local economy, supporting a farmers market, getting real about alternative energy and small scale manufacture of home sized wind turbines, encouraging cottage industries, and using the high school future farmers and business leaders programs to come up with ideas and incubate new endeavors. Some of these are still only in the idea stage while others are in the initial stages of development.

    As a point of reference, I have a master's in urban studies & planning, serve on the planning commission, and am now a member of council which also functions as the EDA.

  10. #10
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by NeoLotus View post
    ...Given the state of the economy, the reality of peak oil, the decimation of smaller family farms and local food production and processing, I have been working to get our community to begin thinking about revamping the local economy, supporting a farmers market, getting real about alternative energy and small scale manufacture of home sized wind turbines, encouraging cottage industries, and using the high school future farmers and business leaders programs to come up with ideas and incubate new endeavors. Some of these are still only in the idea stage while others are in the initial stages of development.

    As a point of reference, I have a master's in urban studies & planning, serve on the planning commission, and am now a member of council which also functions as the EDA.
    Nice assessment and some good ideas. I have done work in nearby areas and can relate to your points about againg, the flight of the brightest, loss of small farms and businesses, and local people keeping out new business.
    Anyone want to adopt a dog?

  11. #11
    Cyburbian RandomPlanner's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Otis View post
    Mine is a small (7,800 pop.) community on the coast, almost completely dependent on tourism. We want economic development to balance the tourist season of summer and spring break. I've always thought a college would be good. Family-wage jobs would be good. Because we are in a desirable location housing costs are vastly above the ability of the median wage earner to afford. This last problem was exacerbated by the housing boom, but has been a problem for many years. Housing prices are not falling as they are in most parts of the country.
    I think colleges do make a difference, but it won't solve everything obviously. Here are my examples in nearby (within 18 miles) communities in my rural County:
    Village A -- 2500 population (in town of 6500), Private College, doing well but looking to revitalize historic downtown (several empty gorgeous, well kept store-fronts), anti-bigbox/ industrial development.
    Village B -- 2000 population (in town of 4800), public ag State School (good school, mind you) -- businesses are constantly changing, very little downtown, main industry is ag (wind farms going up to help sustain rural lifestyle -- which is working).
    Village C -- 3500 population (in town of 5700), ivy league school, doing okay, but businesses (that aren't run by the school) don't seem to stay.

    All three communities are looking to team up for this preserve downtown movement. We'll see how it goes...
    How do I know you are who you think you are?

  12. #12
    Cyburbian
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    Getting Started

    My community has a population of just under 1,000 and is located about 20 miles from a City of 130,000 with a major university. The community used to be a timber town, but that has since died and with it many of the businesses. All we have left now is 2 gas stations/markets and a dentist office. We are in the process of creating downtown development standards in the hopes of attracing businesses and will create a marketing plan once the standards are adopted. We do offer great recreational opportunities and host many events such as boat and rowing races in the spring/summer but have no places for those visitors to shop. Any ideas of where to start? Would an economic development committee be worth while (side note...it's usually the same people who show up to all our meetings)? Any advice would be greatly appreciated!

  13. #13
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by samraen View post
    My community has a population of just under 1,000 and is located about 20 miles from a City of 130,000 with a major university. The community used to be a timber town, but that has since died and with it many of the businesses. All we have left now is 2 gas stations/markets and a dentist office. We are in the process of creating downtown development standards in the hopes of attracing businesses and will create a marketing plan once the standards are adopted. We do offer great recreational opportunities and host many events such as boat and rowing races in the spring/summer but have no places for those visitors to shop. Any ideas of where to start? Would an economic development committee be worth while (side note...it's usually the same people who show up to all our meetings)? Any advice would be greatly appreciated!
    The short answer is that you need a market analysis. What do you have a realistic chance of bringing in, based on market potential, competition, and the sales necessary to support various kinds of retail and service businesses?
    Anyone want to adopt a dog?

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