Over the last two years I have been on the mission to understand the make up of my small town of Albert Lea, MN. I have met with leaders to discuss exactly what our issues are, both factual and rumor based, to understand how to go forward. I have read blog articles, watched Tedx talks and talked with professionals who have made it their mission to help turn small, rural towns around. What makes them the expert? Great question, I’m glad you asked. These folks (An example is Becky McCray and Deb Brown) I have chosen to learn from have been in the rural trenches. They have been chamber execs., rural business owners or other form of leadership within a community. The difference in their experiences is they decided they could bring their community together for change and they did. I have had more than one person ask me why North Iowa is doing so well and the answer, at least through my observation, is not hard to find. In many ways it is because they have embraced social media. Their leaders embraced it early, changed with what was really working and ran with it. They brought bloggers to town (you can see the affected of those who continue to invite the bloggers back and those who do not), they acknowledged the change in how people are purchasing their day to day items, they listened and implemented online changes that brought about joyful change, profitable change.
Change I have learned is not done in any small town without negativity or neigh-sayers. There are those who will not acknowledge the positive side to something until they can see it and experience it with their own eyes. I have also learned the issues my town of Albert Lea faces are not unique to us. They are in fact the norm in most of the world. The small towns that have prospered comes down to one thing. They first embraced together who they wanted to be as a community and they owned it.
One of the frustrations in my town is that most businesses close on Sunday. I know *Gasp*! There are those in my town who HATE it! Abhor it might be a better expression. However, I love it. I love that my town still practices “old fashioned” , “time out/rest time”. The thing is we have awesomeness going on pretty much every other day of the week. To have one day a week where our town is able to get out and enjoy each other. A time when downtown owners are able to relax and enjoy their hard work. I love it!
Now, I have also lived in small towns who embrace tourism season. To be closed Sunday would mean a huge loss in tourism dollars. They purposefully brace themselves for the season of the year, but once the season slows down they go back to closing on Sunday. The balance comes in figuring out and knowing the busy season, days and times for a small town. It looks different for different towns.
In reading articles, talking with people in different small town communities, watching Tedx Talks, living in many rural, small towns throughout my life. I have come to realize the real story of what makes a community thrive is the mentality within the town. It’s the people living, working and playing in a town that begins to draw in others. Neighbors and small town members deciding who they want to be and what they enjoy. Bringing in events we enjoy and inviting the world to join us. People flock to happiness, to the places people are having a good time. We define who we want to be and the overall feel in our community, not the world.
As I was writing the other day, I realized that if a small rural town loved who they are as a community, even if it is only in their eyes, that in and of itself is success. It’s ok, it’s not about what the rest of the world, it is about what you are doing. I have always loved small town living and I always will. The low crime rate, slower pace of living (this does not mean we do not have anything going on in town). It means the noise is less, there is more elbow room, little to no traffic, and we can still see the stars, even inside the city limits. I do not want the small town feel to leave Albert Lea.
Social media and the internet has opened up the business world. You may not see as many brick and mortar stores because people are able to work from the comfort of their own home. Business professionals who could be working a corporate job are enjoying the perks of being able to work from anywhere in the world.
A community may need to figure out what is the best way to market their community. They may need to figure out what are the best days and times to be open to allow the bigger picture to happen for the whole town. Tourism may define some out of the box ideas for a town. However, we the community members still define whether our community is a happy, beautiful, thriving place to live. No one can define this for us, the responsibility belongs to us alone. The reality is a huge company may not come and sweep us off of our feet and fix all of our problems. The question then becomes, who are we going to be? Who will we invite to move back and invest in our community? Who is already here to help us expand to create more outside dollars to come into the community. Will we encourage and train entrepreneurs to use ecommerce on their websites to sell their products, services or experiences.
I’m curious, is your community doing something unique and you want the world to know about it? I would love to know about it. Make a comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to tell me about it. I would love to feature it here on the blog.