Thoughts about business and economic development in rural areas.


September 2007
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Archive for September 20th, 2007

Nothing Ever Changes Here.

“The people who moved in after the couple that owned the place that bought it from the Morleys don’t live there anymore.” Sound familiar? It should. Years ago we knew the folks who bought the ‘old Morley place’. They probably bought the property 30 years earlier but all the locals still refer to it by the former owner’s name. Seems to be an unwritten rule in rural areas that the unofficial ‘name’ for a property only changes long after actual ownership changes hands. I know about the ‘old Morley place because my folks bought that farm in 1943. They didn’t buy it from the Morleys, they bought it from Walter Meyer. Our family owned it until 1970 and there have been three owners since then. It’s probably the ‘old Schneider place’ about now., we’ve been gone long enough.

But this isn’t about local naming conventions. It’s about the constant change in the makeup of our ‘communities’. Families seem to be much more mobile today and a look at U.S. Census data proves it. One of the questions asked determines if a household has moved within the previous five years. If so, the next question determines if the mover came from a neighboring county or neighboring state. The bottom line is that nearly 15% of the people living in a typical rural community moved there within the past five years and they moved from far enough away that they don’t know the pronounciations of local names. The test around here is pronouncing ‘Muscoda’. (It’s “musk-oh-day”….bet you didn’t come up with that?)

So what does it mean to us? It means that there are a whole lot of new people who don’t know squat about our community and it means we have a whole bunch of new neighbors that we have probably never met. And we used to say that only happened in ‘the big city’. To make my point I always issue a friendly challenge to mayors and village presidents. I’ll offer to bet them that if I took them to the five houses on either side of where they currently live I will be able to introduce them to at least one family they have never formally met. I don’t get too many takers. They might know there are new people over at ‘the Old Morley place’ and they might see them drive by on their way to somewhere, but they haven’t been introduced.

So we’re all trying to run community governments and civic organizations based on who used to live here while we wonder who those new folks are.

And all the while we nod our heads knowingly and say, “Nothing ever changes here”.