Author Archive for Becky

The cheapest Placemaking idea

Those fancy placemaking masterplans are worthless if people won’t use the place. 

So here it is: the cheapest placemaking idea.

Go sit on a bench or at a table downtown. Text a friend and invite them to join you. Just have a good time talking for awhile. Bonus points if you take a meal and eat there. Then do it again soon. 

By being present in the public space, you’re shaping what kind of place it is now and will become. Going there will draw others and boost interest in improving it. You’ll build connections with each other, brainstorm ideas, and strengthen community. 

You’ll attract others by making it seem like the kind of place people want to be. 

Nothing draws a crowd like a crowd. 

And you’re going to need a crowd to make a better place, whether it’s done by grassroots Idea Friendly or that eye-wateringly expensive masterplan. 

Keep shaping a better future for your town,

Becky 

PS –  Get 39 cheap ideas in our Cheap Placemaking Ideas video from SaveYour.Town

What if you didn’t ask people to be on committees?

What if volunteering with you looked a lot more like joining a fun challenge?

Can you imagine asking people to try something that might take a lot of effort, but just for a very short time?

How can people put their own spin on the effort, and then share that with others?

What if you only asked people to do the part they find fun?

Keep shaping a better future for your town,

Becky 

PS – Deb and I will be presenting a keynote on rural workforce solutions for a group in Idaho, Wyoming and Montana. Want to see what the buzz is about? It started from our Rural Workforce Trends video.

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

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 SmallBizSurvival.com

  • 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 SmallBizSurvival.com)

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,
Becky

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. https://bankofideas.com.au/subscribe/
  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. https://futurecrunch.com/
  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.) https://flipboard.com/@beckymccrayif/small-town-and-rural-r8kjo1ghy 

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,
Becky

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, 
Becky

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

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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