Archive for Becky’s email newsletter

Old Way economic development assumes that it takes a lot of time, money and work just to get into business. Entrepreneurs need to have all their ducks in a row. They need to have great credit, deep pockets, good connections, be clean and sober, have strong business skills, no criminal record and a solid support network. 

Think about your town, how many people really have all those qualifications? Only a few people have a fair chance at success.  

The Idea Friendly way is to take small steps. You can start with a tiny experiment, a temporary business at an event, working together in a shared space like coworking, or traveling with a truck or trailer. Technology lets you access services that were never available to small businesses before. Automation and smart apps let you leverage technology to eliminate a lot of the drudge work.

These small steps don’t require all those qualifications. Each small step only requires a few. Instead of getting all your ducks in a row, today if you can get one duck, then you can get started with small steps.

When you cut time and money off the process of getting a start, you’re spreading economic opportunity to more people. You’ll put people in a much better position to succeed, or to fail in a manageable way. 

Keep shaping a better future for your town,


PS – If you’re working on equity, fairness or including more people in your community, check out our video on Equity in Rural Economic Development

Photo credit: fishhawk on Flickr

Who your awards missed

Do you give awards? Lots of economic development organizations, chambers and other groups give awards for entrepreneurs and businesses. That’s an opportunity to show that you value people. 

At SaveYour.Town, Deb and I have been thinking a lot about including everyone in your community fairly. For example, Norfolk County, Ontario, gives the usual kind of Entrepreneur of the Year award, and also gives a Young Entrepreneur of the Year award. 

That reminds you of all the amazing young entrepreneurs in your town, doesn’t it? Who else can you think of? Could you add awards for home-based entrepreneurs, new businesses, arts businesses, traditional cultural businesses? 

There’s not a thing wrong with giving a bunch of awards, as long as you’re valuing people. 

How could you expand your awards categories to include more people? 

Keep shaping a better future for your town,


PS – If you’re working on equity, fairness or including more people in your community, check out our video on Equity in Rural Economic Development.

“What do you want in the park?” is the wrong question

North Shore is a small town on the edge of the remote Salton Sea in California. It used to be a popular tourist destination. As the Salton Sea has grown more salty and polluted, tourism has gone away. About 3,500 people live there now and around 95% are Hispanic or Latino.

Monique Lopez was one of the people who worked with the people of North Shore on a project called Nuestro Lugar or “Our Place.” I heard her talk about it at the Rural Creative Placemaking Conference a few years ago.

One part of Nuestro Lugar was revitalizing a local park, and they wanted to get more people involved than just the officials and the same volunteers who do everything.

You know the Old Way to do that: public input sessions, community meetings, that sort of thing. The officials ask people, “What do you want us to put in the park?” Then people give the officials a long list of wants and complaints. And the officials say, “Thanks for your input.” And then they go back to city hall and say, “There is no way we can afford to do any of that.” Then people are frustrated and say, “We tried to tell the city, but they never listen.”

But you’re Idea Friendly people. And maybe you serve in some role where you might conceivably ask people for ideas about parks or something else. That’s why you’ll love the question that Monique and Nuestro Lugar asked.

They started by asking, “How do you see our community? What kind of community do we want to be?” Ideas for the community, including the park, flowed from that discussion. 

The Nuestro Lugar group found that food was a common theme in people’s answers: making and sharing food was an important family activity, and many people made and sold food as a side business.

One of the projects that came out of that insight was a regular food market in the park, just booths and tables where people could sell. Then other people can come and buy, maybe make a picnic of it right there in the park. That’s the kind of inexpensive community-building idea that would hardly come up at the usual “public input” session. And it matches the kind of community they want to be.

Here’s the practical step for you:

Before your next public input session, rewrite your questions to ask about the kind of community people want to live in, not just this one project location.

When I was city administrator, I made a map

When I started as administrator for a city of 993 people (yes, we were a city under Oklahoma law), I was frustrated trying to make sense of the list of properties the municipal government owned.

I sat down with the list, a town map and a highlighter, deciphered the legal descriptions from the list and highlighted every property we owned on the map. Besides the public parks and municipal buildings, I noticed a large group of empty residential lots near the creek, a few more lots scattered around, and some other fairly large tracts around the edges of town. Then I added properties the county owned in another color. Then the school properties in another color.

When I was finished, I had a much better visual idea of what we owned and how we might put them to work for the community.

A previous city administrator had commissioned plans and secured funding for a walking/biking trail to be squeezed into a small public park called Elm Park. When I reviewed the plans with the city’s engineering firm, they pointed out that if they went forward as planned, it would feel like we were paving the entire little park.

I started talking to people about what else we could do. We turned to my map for alternative locations.

Just north of the park, the city owned dozens of empty lots from a floodplain clearance project years ago. If we put all those lots together, the city would have enough space to spread out the trail across a larger open greenspace. This would also move the trail closer to the residents in a lower-income part of town. The council agreed to name those empty lots “Elm Park North” and to locate the trail there. The granting agency required some new documentation, but was fine with the minor adjustment from Elm Park to the new Elm Park North.

Today, people from all over town walk and bike there. Local volunteers have added plants and landscaped around the trail’s parking area. The historical society added signs sharing some important stories and photos from the town’s history. There’s also a new playground area for kids.

Without my map, those lots were just “lot and block” parcel numbers in a list with a bunch of other city properties. With the map and the conversations it informed, they were an asset and an opportunity. Today they’re a popular place for people in the community.

Keep shaping a better future for your town,

PS – If you’re serving as an official, board member or leader in your community, our latest video is for you

Role models for young rural entrepreneurs

When Deb and I were working on our Build Youth Entrepreneurship video, I saw way too many young entrepreneurship programs encouraging them to emulate business people I wouldn’t really want my niece or nephews to emulate. Shark Tanks. Pitch competitions. Billionaires as role models.

The real models for young rural entrepreneurs are the successful business people who started and grew in small towns.

  • Legends like L.L. Bean, started in Maine. Still in Maine with a global reach.
  • Pella Windows are from Iowa.
  • Jiffy Mixes in the blue boxes. Read more about them here.
  • Grasshopper Mowers from Kansas.
  • SEL Electrical Boxes from Washington State.
  • Tabasco Sauce from Avery Island, Louisiana.
  • Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream from Waterbury, Vermont.
  • Viking Ranges from Mississippi.
  • J.M. Smucker & Co., Orrville, Ohio.
  • Dessin Fournir is a high-end furniture manufacturer based out of a small town in Kansas.
  • Ditch Witch trenching equipment from Perry, Oklahoma.
  • Beechworth Bakery in Australia staunchly holds onto their small town origin.
  • Home Hardware’s corporate headquarters are still in St. Jacobs, Ontario.

Take a look around your town and region for your local stories. There are so many small town successes that are a good fit for rural kids. Use them as role models.

Keep shaping the future of your town,

PS – Get your own copy of our Build Youth Entrepreneurship video for just $9. 

There’s culture hidden in your rural community: how to find it

Several conversations lately have centered on whether rural communities have something you could call culture. And if we do, how would you describe it? 

At the Dakota Resources virtual coffee we joined, Judy Larson said something like, “Our culture here in Lemmon affects how we do things, and new people have another culture.”

You may not think your town has a special culture, but you have ways of doing things. Those ways are part of your culture.  “Ways of doing things” includes what foods you eat and how you prepare them, what arts you create and how you involve people, what events you hold and what traditions are part of them, and much more.

Your culture is the intersection of the people in your community and the place where you are. Culture is a reservoir of shared experiences, a toolkit that equips us to thrive and adapt where we are.

Finding your culture can help you share the best of your community with others.  Here’s how: Our friends at Tourism Currents took the 8 Rural Culture Elements from the Kansas Sampler Foundation, then used that to generate dozens of ideas for ways to share your rural culture online.

Fun homework: take a quick look at the 8 Rural Culture Elements from the Kansas Sampler Foundation, then go find examples in your town. 

What the headlines missed in Pew’s urban vs. rural study

Pew Research released a major rural vs urban study, and most of the positive trends for rural places are being overlooked in the headlines.

I’m going to give you the bullet points here, and you can read more of my thoughts at

  • Way more people prefer rural than prefer urban, and the gap is growing.
  • Way more people prefer rural than actually live in rural areas now.
  • This aligns with previous studies of rural living preferences: There’s pent up demand for people to move to rural. 

City people want to move to the suburbs. 

Suburbanites want to move to rural. 

Rural people want to stay rural. 

(now THAT’s a headline)

  • The pandemic didn’t increase overall preference for rural living, but it did increase individual motivation to move to a small town now.
  • More urban people rated the pandemic effects as major.
  • Urban people worried more about housing and drug abuse.
  • Rural people were more worried by access to doctors and hospitals and high speed internet.
  • Rural to urban, we want the same things in a community.
  • The number one ranked factor is a community that is a good place to raise children. 

(Want to see how I came to my conclusions? See my analysis at

Overall, the Pew Research study brought out some positive points for rural places to consider and largely agreed with previous studies of rural preferences.

Society may realign significantly as work is increasingly decoupled from place.

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Have you read the study? What do you think is being missed?

Keep shaping the future of your town,

P.S. not a member yet? Check out the latest video on using Art to build community and fairness

My secret sources for rural trendwatching

Rural trends are kind of my thing. Seems like everyone has a “top trends” article for 2022, but not many of them cover rural trends and small towns. We focus only on trends for rural and small towns.

Want to skip ahead and see my trends for 2022? Watch the rural trends video here.

Where do I get my ideas? I skim or read a lot of different sources. A LOT. Here are a few of the best, most interesting sources you might like to follow, too. 

  1. Bank of I.D.E.A.S.: truly international collection of stories about rural people and projects, with a fiercely positive outlook. Bi-monthly with an overwhelming amount of good stuff. Highly recommended.
  2. Future Crunch: dozens of good news stories about the present and future in your email every other week. Definitely recommended. The free version is valuable on its own, and paid subscribers get even more good news.
  3. Small Town and Rural Flipboard: Where I share articles from all over that relate to rural and small communities. (No Flipboard account needed. Just read it like any other news website.) 

Want to see even more of my sources? Just reply and ask. I’ll be glad to share more. And I’d love to hear what sources you read to keep up with rural and small town news and trends. 

Keep shaping the future of your community,

PS – Don’t miss out on our 2022 Rural Trends video

Why won’t people come to our entrepreneur training??

If you set up entrepreneur training, you want to reach as many potential entrepreneurs as you can. When only a handful sign up and even fewer show up and some drop out before the end, it’s discouraging. 

It’s just possible that some of the problem is in how the training is delivered. For formal training events like conferences, there are certain accessibility best practices for entrepreneurship training

If it’s not a conference, but something you’re organizing locally to train entrepreneurs…consider these barriers:

  • Not everyone learns best in a classroom setting.
  • Not everyone has time for a multi-week course.
  • Not everyone hears well enough or speaks English well enough to follow lectures in real time.
  • Not everyone can physically get into the building. 

Deb and I are big fans of informal training to quickly eliminate a lot of those barriers.

Why not just get folks together for back room tours of existing businesses or casual conversations rather than formal lectures?

Once you start thinking about ways to open up to all different kinds of people, you can cut down some of those barriers that are holding them back. With fewer barriers, you have a better chance to reach the people you want to serve. 

Keep shaping the future of your town, 

PS – We share even more cool ideas to support your local economy that don’t cost much in our video Cheap Economic Development Ideas.   

You probably haven’t thought of this local business benefit

I’ve been thinking lately how many large challenges we face as a society that come down to not thinking from other people’s perspectives.

Our communities could use more empathy. Doing business with each other can help us build empathy. 

Selling something requires us to think about other people. We have to think about what other people will like, what they will buy. That is thinking from another person’s perspective.

In my years as retail store owner, I remember putting myself in my customers’ place, trying to understand what they might want to buy this week. 

Buyers also can potentially improve their empathy when they realize that local sellers offer something that the buyers value enough to purchase. That’s even more important when the buyers and sellers come from different groups, like when a local farmer wanders through the Hispanic grocery and finds something new to try. 

Businesses are essential third places where people can connect with each other. Your first place is your home, your second place is your work. Your third places are where you go to be with other people. 

Retail businesses can be a third place, too. Ever go to the grocery store to buy 3 things but it took half an hour because you stopped to talk to people? Community happens when people talk to each other!  

We’re rebuilding social capital while we’re chatting with friends or with a clerk over our purchase.

That doesn’t happen when people buy online. It has to be in person. 

All good reasons why local commerce builds strong communities. 

Keep shaping the future of your town, 

PS –  Empathy is just one way local commerce builds strong communities. That’s our latest video. Only a couple of days left to get it at the $5 price. 

Get a weekly dose of positivity for small communities from Becky McCray and Deb Brown, co-founders of SaveYour.Town. We share practical steps you can put into action right away.
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