Sunday, May 4, 2014

Rural America: How Do We Keep Our Local Communities Alive?

OK~ It's been a few days since I posted the following to my personal Facebook page, "What types of stores and businesses do you want to see in your community that are currently not there?" Keep in mind that this was from my personal friends. Just imagine the things a business owner could learn through social media. Here are some of the answers:

  • Grocery store on a small scale, even if it was a gas station.
  • I would love to have a craft store in town, without having to drive an hour and a half.
  • An Italian Restaurant.
  • Something for Kids to do.
  • A bagel shop.
  • A decent store to buy high end women's clothing.
  • Christian retail book store.
  • I'd love a food co-op.
  • A Sam's Club would be welcome.
  • A glass studio.
  • I would love to have a Trader Joe's.
  • A Thai Restaurant would be nice.
  • A grocery store on the south end of Mason City.
These answers came from all across the United States, as well as the Mason City area. This is just a sampling of the 40+ comments that filled the thread. No matter where we live, we all seem to want what is not there. Could it be that we have determined what is there by our buying habits?

What I see in this quick list are business opportunities and a chance for business owners to step up their game. For example, if you own a business that features kids activities, you obviously need to find ways to get your kid friendly activities out there. 

Here in rural America it is quite evident that we need to change our ways of thinking. Rural America is thriving, but we do have work to do.With oodles of people relocating to other parts of the country, specifically here in North Iowa, we need to step up our game!

I had the pleasure of touring Couser Cattle Company this past week and let me tell you, Tim Couser nailed it! I asked him what his advice would be to a young person going into farming today that had no ties to a family farm? He responded, "It's nearly impossible. Many of our older farmers that are nearing retirement age need to take these young people under their wing and mentor them." Could this be part of the mass exodus of young people in Iowa?

It's true, our older citizens need to be mentoring these younger people, not just in agriculture; but in all types of businesses.

Two North Iowa business owners chimed in on the Facebook question that I asked and they responded with, "I basically learned that retail works Oct-Dec. in this town. I concentrate on markets, online sales, and wholesale the rest of the time." Another North Iowa business owner responded with, "I've been reading everyone's comments and all sounds great but the biggest duty to us all is to support the new businesses that open."

Now, not every business is going to fit in a community, but we need to support those businesses that interest us. I love the idea of having choices, and I can honestly say that I do wish we had more choices locally. But hey, I can usually make do. I did learn that a person cannot find a sun dress in North Iowa during the month of January, as that's a purchase you need to make upon your sunny, warm destination!

This leads me to a statement that many may dislike. Why is it OK to drive to Minneapolis to the Mall of America to shop when the Minnesota DOT is recommending no travel? I'm now talking about a two hour drive on I-35 from Mason City to Minneapolis. This happened over and over again this past Winter. Families would fill up a car with their kids and their friends. I am thinking it's a competition amongst families today. This 40 something Mom is still shaking her head thinking, "Really? Where is common sense?"

I love to travel and I love to get out of town, who doesn't? But in all honesty, if we keep behaving the way we do, we will no longer have what we currently have. 

This brings me back to the local shops that we would like to see in our communities. Are we willing to step up to the plate to shop locally or are we going to let our communities in Iowa die a slow death? There is something to be said about Tim Couser's perspective. Business owners that are nearing retirement have an opportunity to find younger people to mentor. Imagine how our main streets could look if residents spent their money locally and older store owners were willing to help continue a legacy. 

I have no doubt that there are good people out there mentoring our young people all across the state of Iowa. But, it's obvious that there is work to be done. So, tell me- Are you focusing on spending more dollars locally, or do you spend more of it out of your area? There are no right or wrong answers. The fact is, if local residents do not support their local businesses, they will no longer have them in their neighborhood. And at that point, the drive will be longer! After All, It's All In a Mom's Day, Right?


  1. Great post Sara! It was great to have you as part of the Iowa Blogger get together on Friday. What a great prospective from Tim and how true. I feel like some people are scared to train and mentor people for the fear of being replaced or even being "topped". Many small business owners have a hard time sharing responsibilities and duties because they've had to do all the work. It is a pride thing I think. But that is what needs to be done for our local business to survive. I personally love shopping local and am very happy with the variety of local businesses available in my community.

    1. Somehow, some way, we Iowans need to change our way of thinking. I'd love to hear what others are suggesting to keep Rural America in the game.

  2. People in the farming community can help keep agriculture in North Iowa alive by getting involved with the Beginning Farmer Center at ISU. They have a program designed to match retiring and beginning farmers. It's a win for both parties! If a retiring farmer wants to pass on their farm but doesn't have anyone close to them interested, the Beginning Farmer Center works with young people looking to get started to "match" them with a retiring farmer. The older generation can carry out their retirement plans, but feel good about transferring their business to a young farmer. On another note, "keeping it in the family" is another thing the BFN can help with. They've been a huge help to my family during our succession planning process.


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