Inkless printing from Missouri? Sustainable fish from Iowa? 

Rural people are innovative. We have to be. Limited resources, limited choices means we get creative to find ways to make lives better. 

Tech-related companies dominated the Farm Bureau Rural Entrepreneurship Initiative contest this year. 

The 15 important innovations for 2015 from Missouri S&T (that’s  Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla) include cool stuff like inkless printing, hydrogen-producing bacteria and hollow concrete columns that are stronger than solid ones. 

There’s a fish farm called Iowa’s First near Webster City, IA, in a former hog barn. It’s going to change the way you eat fish in a few years. Watch for it. You’ll see more sustainable, healthy fresh fish coming into your markets, and never realize it was grown in this innovative way pioneered in this small town by this local businessman. 

Your Grasshopper Mower came out of Kansas. Your car parts made by Lisle are small town Iowa. Your LL Bean boots. Your Crayolas. Your Pella windows. Your SEL electrical boxes. Hundreds more products and services you know by name. Tabasco. Dow Corning. Viking Ranges. Jiffy Mixes in the blue boxes. 

We innovate in rural places because we use what we have. I’m a big fan of Norfolk County, Ontario, and their many cool projects. There’s one going on that’s a good example of changing the way things are done, that might not normally be called “innovation.” #TweetFolkTours. Gregg McLaughlin and pals are turning the “small town businesses are scared of social media” stereotype on its head. They’re taking locals, touring local businesses, and promoting them online. Benefits: more locals learn about the businesses = more sales for the businesses. Businesses are learning about social media = better marketing. People outside the county are learning about businesses and coming to visit = more sales. All of that = more prosperous businesses.

Can we say it’s innovative when the leaders in Tionesta, PA, turn a vacant lot into a business incubator using garden sheds? How about Pascagoula, MS, who did the same thing with surplus Katrina Cottages (tiny houses)? 

There’s a cool new maker space in Sonora, CA, that’s called Innovation Lab. That’s innovative. How about crafternoons in Cavalier, ND? It’s a small but cool way of local crafters and makers getting together and networking. That’s innovative. 

Have you seen the Blue Collar Career Fair in San Saba, Texas? It’s the kind of innovative thing that happens when a local person decides they don’t like hearing that 2/3s of their school kids are “at risk.”

I can go on. But those are all stories I already know. What I really want are your stories. What innovations are going on in your town? Or a nearby town? Hit reply and tell me about them. I love sharing them with other small town folks, using them in presentations, writing about them and mentioning them when someone else forgets that rural people innovate. 

All of these examples got mentioned in my rant, “Sorry I didn’t read your ‘rural is dying’ article.” If you’d like to reprint either the rant-y version, or this more positive version, just hit reply and let me know where you want to use it. 

Keep shaping the future of your town, 

PS – Are you a speaker, or you want to be more of one? I am leading a workshop on Becoming a More Professional Speaker in the Tulsa area. If you have questions about it, feel free to ask.