Archive for Becky’s email newsletter

Recession? Practical steps from my peers

I have a monthly call with 2 international business friends where we share our work and mentor each other. Last week, one of them asked how we felt and what we planned for possible recession.

Erno studies the stoic philosophy and says not to worry about this kind of issue. Focus on what you can control, including your own skills and your own business. Also, don’t over-monitor the news.

I said that I tend to think less about recession and more about my exposure to risks. Look at your income streams and decide which ones may be affected by the risks of a possible recession. Take any action you need to better protect your income or assets.

Stephanie said especially in difficult times, we should all stay connected. Reach out to your network of people. Make introductions and help others. Pay it forward.

As a group, we felt “stay the course” was the best advice for us. Know your goals and strategies. Keep working your plan.

What are you feeling, and what practical steps are you taking?

Keep shaping a better future for your town,

Becky 

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PS – One of our most-requested topics ever is workforce. Deb and I share the latest in Rural Workforce Trends.

Reaching “at risk” kids to fill local jobs

Tony Guidroz, from San Saba, Texas, told me he was shocked when he found out there were 702 kids in the local school district, and more than 400 were considered “at-risk” either because of grades or language barriers. Tony wanted to give them more choices and more chances. So he shared his idea for a Blue Collar Career Fair. Rather than letting grades or language barriers stop kids from applying, employers could connect directly with these kids. 

Tony’s brilliant insight: skip the usual lecture part of the career fair. Make it all hands-on. 

From welding some metal to driving a skid steer loader, kids could try it. That would grab kids’ attention while it also helped employers look beyond “at-risk” status. 

Another career fair story with a hands-on portion came from Jimi Coplen. She participates in a career fair in Knox County, Texas, population: 3,353

“We feature a lot of careers that can be done in rural communities but pay big bucks. But we also feature things such as Marine Biology – which can’t be done anywhere close to here! Turns out, the kids were totally enamored by this career! It opened their eyes to new possibilities.

“Our day brings in about 30 different speakers from 20 different career fields. The kids get to pick…We do it regionally, focusing on small schools that may not get as many opportunities to hear such quality speakers. It is a tough event to pull together, but the benefits are well worth the efforts.”

Some of the hands-on demonstrations included trying on a full haz-mat suit and testing physical therapy tools.

Quick! Go look at the pic of the kid trying the hazmat suit!

Keep shaping a better future for your town,

Becky 

2/3rds of rural businesses struggle with workforce challenges. Deb and I share more practical steps you can take today in Rural Workforce Trends.

2/3 of rural businesses struggle with this

The most chosen small business challenge on our 2021 survey was … 

workforce. 

In 2019…also workforce. 

In fact, workforce issues have always been in the top 5 challenges every time we’ve run our survey. 

The percentage who pick the workforce as a challenge keeps going up, and in 2021 it was 64%. That’s almost 2/3rds. 

I used to work in workforce development. The employers on our Northwest Oklahoma workforce council said many of the same things in 2001 as the small businesses said on our 2021 survey. 

  • “We post jobs but no one applies.”
  • “There aren’t enough qualified people.” 
  • “We hire, but then they quit.”

While Deb and I were working on our new Rural Workforce Trends video, I was struck by just how much has changed in the nature of work and the makeup of our rural workforce even in the past 20 years. But we’re still hearing the same challenges from our employers. 

Which brings me to the good news. 

The rapid changes to work and the workforce mean some of the old limits don’t have to be limits any more. 

Our Rural Workforce Trends video will change your thinking so you can make more progress on your workforce challenges. You’ll learn and apply the Idea Friendly Method and stop thinking only of comprehensive long term projects.

One way to recruit new residents: remote workers

The first thing people ask us about remote workers is how to attract them. 

To find out what will make your town attractive, let’s look at what attracts people to your town right now. 

Every town has some people moving in every year, and we don’t notice them. We are far more aware of the graduates leaving town, because they hold a ceremony for them every year. There’s no ceremony for new residents, and they don’t all move in at the same time. 

In 2020, Montana Extension asked community leaders in some of the most remote and challenged rural communities to see if they could find and talk to a new resident in their community. 

They all found new residents, no matter how small their town. More than a quarter of these new residents brought their own job as a remote worker or an entrepreneur. That’s pretty amazing considering that these weren’t popular tourist towns or high-amenity outdoor resort areas.

Those new residents said they were drawn to their new community by factors you’ll recognize. They want to raise their kids like they were raised, to be closer to nature, to have a slower pace of life and a lower cost of living. Being part of a small community and friendly people were the top things they loved about their new towns. 

Your town has things that make it attractive to new people. It includes belonging to a community and having the freedom to experiment with your own business. Get together with some other people in your area and compare your lists of what you like about your town. 

Keep shaping a better future for your town,

Becky 

Find more practical steps you can take in our video Remote Work Ready: Zoom Towns. Everything you’ll learn is do-able, affordable and scaled for small towns.  

It’s still the Year of Remote Work

Remote work was always the trend that was going to happen really soon. I can’t tell you how many years were declared the Year of Remote Work, yet the percentage of jobs done remotely barely changed. 

For rural people like you and me, distance work has always been our reality. Just as soon as any new technology appeared, we started using it to overcome distance. And that goes all the way back to rural free delivery and rural mail routes.

Since 2006, I’ve written a couple of dozen articles, videos and an entire chapter of my book about the possibilities of remote work, rural sourcing and zoom towns. 

The Year of Remote Work turned out to be 2020. And in the two years since, remote work has stayed at the center of attention. It has been joined by remote schooling and the homework gap. 

This is why we’ve brought back our video Remote Work Ready: Zoom Towns. It’s 31 minutes long, and everything you’ll learn is do-able, affordable and scaled for small towns.  

This video will show you practical ways you can:

  • Make the most of your Internet service and your places for people to work remotely. 
  • Create the sense of community remote workers are looking for. 
  • Respond to resistance and build local support for remote working and remote workers.

You’ve had a couple of years. Is your town remote work ready? 

Photo: Workshifting at the RV Park, CC by CC Chapman

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,

Becky

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,

Becky

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,
Becky

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,
Becky

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

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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