Thoughts about business and economic development in rural areas.

 

September 2007
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Archive for September 6th, 2007

Rural Advantage Lost(?)- Part One

Ok, I put the question mark there because what should be the #1 advantage for businesses and inhabitants of rural areas is #1 in one area….and that’s ‘hype’. The advantage? That’s simple. In rural areas everyone knows everyone else? Everyone knows that! Right? Or at least that’s what the purveyors of rural legends would have you believe. And if everyone knows everyone else it should be easy for local businesses to sell to their neighbors because they know them so well and it should be easy for organizations to get volunteers because they can easily call on that neighbor they know so well just down the street.


Well if that’s the case, how come rural businesses are struggling as consumers regularly shop in ‘the city’ and why are the service groups that formed the backbone of rural volunteerism struggling for existence? Could it be that residents of rural areas have become as distant from their next door neighbors as we’ve always so smugly assumed was the case only in the big cold impersonal urban areas?


Once upon a time, not too long ago, we really did know our neighbors. Heck, we were probably related to most of them. We worked with them, not always because we wanted to but certainly because we had to. It wasn’t a matter of convenience, it was about survival. Threshing crews were the most noted example but it didn’t end there. You helped your neighbor with most everything and they returned the favor. Sometimes the neighbors knew your fields or your herd almost as well as you did. But then something happened. Actually, lots of things happened. The equipment changed. It became better and more affordable. One person could now do a task single handed with the right machinery and the right machinery not only became more availalbe, it became so affordable that even the smallest farm had a complete line that would make any John Deere dealer proud.


I still waved at my neighbor while he worked in the field next to mine but we weren’t working together anymore. Once in a while when we were both close to the fence we might stop and shut the tractor off and jaw for a few minutes but then it was back to work in our own separate worlds. I still knew who my neighbor was, but in those few minutes I didn’t learn as much about him as I would have if we had worked side by side for several days.


And something was lost……