Articles from SaveYour.Town

  • Revitalize Your Rural Community: Join Us for an Interactive Workshop at the 2023 IEDC Annual Conference
    Deb Brown and Becky McCray will be speaking at the International Economic Development Council (IEDC) Annual Conference in Dallas on September 17, 2023. As co-founders of SaveYour.Town, we have dedicated ourselves to helping rural communities thrive. We understand the challenges and unique opportunities that rural community builders and entrepreneurs face, and we strive to empower them to bring their ideas to life. That is why we are excited to present our interactive workshop, Bringing Your Ideas to Life: Idea Friendly Workshop for Rural Revitalizations on Sunday, September 17 at 3:45 PM. In this workshop, we will guide you through a dynamic … Read more
  • Advice to those working in small towns
    How can economic developers and others use the results from the Survey of Rural Challenges?
  • Anyone can use the Idea Friendly Method
    I read an article today about a small town in Montana putting a mural on the side of an empty building. I commented that it was a great idea and I was happy to see it. Tori Wyman, who was mentioned in the article, responded with: We clung to your advice from the Idea Friendly Method! The Idea Friendly Method works, here are the steps: Have a Big Idea — maybe your idea is to make your town look beautiful or fix the empty buildings or clean up the junk in yards (or any idea you’re excited about.) Gather Your Crowd – who are … Read more
  • Survey of Rural Challenges 2023 results
    To find out what rural people felt were their biggest challenges, SaveYour.Town and surveyed 315 rural people from the US, Canada and Australia between November 2022 and January 2023. The results make up this fifth edition of the Survey of Rural Challenges.  Survey of Rural Challenges 2023 by debworks Top conclusions from the survey Rural people were twice as likely to say they were optimistic about their communities’ future as negative. Continuing lack of housing, inactive downtowns and population losses ranked the highest as rural community challenges, joined by lack of child care. The ongoing lack of workers, support … Read more
  • Help the STP with the Idea Friendly Method
    Judy Larson is from Lemmon, South Dakota. She shared this story about the STP. I spend a lot of time with community development folks. The grumble factor often comes around to STP—Same Ten People—meaning these folks feel like they and 9 other people are Atlas, holding up the world. Or at least holding their community up from sure and certain ruin. It always makes me bristle when I hear that. My usual toss-back is “are you building your people?”, meaning are you taking the time and effort to notice people’s strengths, get them the training and tools they need, learning … Read more
  • Our 2023 focus for you is making it easier for you to build community
    2023 Theme: The Idea Friendly Way is the Easy Way We have new tools and new ways to do things. No one has to take minutes, and no one is in charge of forcing accountability on others. There’s no deciding, no voting, no shaming. You don’t have to get everything planned out to the Last Detail before you ever get started. You sure don’t need yet another plan on your shelf. You don’t have to do everything yourself, or waste a lot of time trying to drag people into doing what they said they would do.  We can involve a … Read more
  • Where do you get grants for small towns, rural places?
    SaveYour.Town is not a grant writing service. We are not a grant finding service. But folks often ask us about finding grants or finding grant writers. We hate to just say, “No” and leave it at that. These are some of the tips and ideas that work for most small towns and rural communities. Networking and building connections are how you find grants for small towns. Deb and I brainstormed these tips for networking your way to grants and funding. Who currently writes grants in your town or covers your area? Visit with people involved in local governments, churches and … Read more
  • Watch parties for all!
    Cori sent us this email:Hi! I enjoy your emails so much and the opportunity for conversations. I see you have videos to purchase. If our small chamber was wanting to start a monthly meet with our members would these videos be something we could share with members for an informative meeting or are these more geared just for us to gather info from and get ideas from? Hope this makes sense. Thanks!! I answered: We definitely want you to share the videos with your members! They are less than 30 minutes long so you can watch them over a lunch hour and have … Read more
  • What challenges does your community or business face? Tell us here
    We’d like your help to get an updated view of the challenges to your community and your business, and what’s working well or not so much.
  • Empty buildings and art – a success story
    SaveYour.Town received an email with a story about art and an empty building we want to share today. Deb Land, the  Mural Coordinator for Sayre Revitalization in Athens, PA sent this.  You have all been so helpful to our small town of Sayre, PA.  I read your newsletter faithfully!  We have had two successful Pop Up events, both art shows because of your inspiration.  Last summer we used a vacant store, put out a registration via JotForm and had a great show. We had organized a street fair to celebrate the completion of our first  mural, closed the street, and had … Read more
  • Placemaking in your downtown doesn’t need a strategic plan
    You don’t need permission to do most placemaking ideas in your downtown. You don’t even need a lot of money (under $100.)  Somehow, we’ve relied upon some group, organization, nonprofit or the city to put together a strategic plan to make our downtowns look better. And these plans take years to put together. Driven by committee, oversight and folks who relish the power they think they have makes creating this kind of gigantic plan a huge hairy deal.  I’ve collected stories from small towns all over the world who are using cheap ideas to brighten up a sad space, to … Read more
  • Practical steps to overcome opposition to new residents
    Welcoming new residents means dealing with those members of your community who are not so open to new people moving in.  Practical step 1: Magnify stories of people being welcoming.  Because it’s uncomfortable when you hear complaints about new residents moving in, you remember it.  You don’t remember the thousand and one ways local people are being welcoming, because you never see most of them.  The woman who makes cookies for her new neighbor’s kids.  The man who stops to help someone carry their heavy moving boxes.  The people who go out of their way to invite a newcomer to … Read more
  • How co-operatives can help boost equity in your rural economy
    Cooperatives can play a big role in small towns, providing products and services to fill gaps as well as giving local people a share of ownership. Rural cooperatives go way back Rural areas have a long history with cooperatives through cooperative telephone service, electricity, and agriculture. My husband is a member of the Alva Farmers Cooperative for farm supplies, and we’re members of Pioneer Telephone Cooperative for our cell phones and internet. You might be a coop member, too. Even so, you might not know much about how cooperatives work. Or how you could use one to make your town … Read more
  • What if you held your meetings outside?
    You’ve sat through plenty of board meetings and a few city council meetings. They are held in the ‘official’ locations, with assigned seating (real or imagined) and there’s a course of action you must follow.  What if you moved your meeting outside?  Send the previous minutes and financials out by email ahead of time and ask your board to review them at their leisure. You can tell them that during the meeting you’ll simply vote to accept and any small corrections can be done via email. Or at the next ‘official’ meeting.  Take a look at the agenda. What projects … Read more
  • How local leaders and officials can become Venture Capitalists of New Ideas
    We’re living through a shift in power, to one that is more open to participation by people outside of our formal organization.  For local leaders and officials, it’s hard to imagine how this will work, being more open to ideas from outside the leadership. How you can protect your community from failure while being open to new ideas? We have a simple way of thinking that can help. Think of yourself as the Venture Capitalists of New Ideas.  What do Venture Capitalists do? A really simple view of it is they find out about as many new ideas as they … Read more
  • 5 ways to address objections about shopping local
    I’ve heard business owners say things like “in this economic climate, it’s hard to get new customers” and “no one has any money to spend, we can’t afford to use new ways to advertise”. I’ve heard customers say “they never do anything different” and “why should I shop local?  I can get a better deal at the big box store?” These comments are opportunities for local residents and businesses to help create change and share a new mindset on how we think about our community.    Here’s 5 things to consider: 1.  Stop saying “in this economic climate” – people are still … Read more
  • Kill the Committees
    Committees are just a group of people who want to do things. The problem is forming committees is the old way of doing things. Volunteers are harder to find these days.  There’s a real disconnect around the word volunteer in small towns. Traditionally, people were asked to volunteer for a certain time frame, starting with one year. You may have seen those letters from the local chamber. They ask “we’re filling out committees and need your help. Which one of this humongous list of committees do you want to serve on?” If you ask me that question, the answer is NONE. Volunteering … Read more
  • Add international flags to your next community event
    One of my longtime friends in Oklahoma, Melyn Johnson from micropolitan Guymon, Oklahoma, told me a cool thing they do at a local event: they do a parade of national flags of all the nations represented. This was at an event that focused on the international heritage across their community, but I think you could do this at any local event. It’s perfect for international foods or cultural events. You could have a parade of people carrying their flags or a simple display of flags on stands. You can start with people born in other countries, or expand to people … Read more
  • Use Art to Build Community
    I sit on a volunteer board for Legacy Learning Boone River Valley in Webster City, Iowa. I was surprised at the number of local instructors in my community that are artists and teach workshops.  Some examples of the local art these folks teach include: the Scandinavian thread work craft of Hardanger,  Pine Needle Baskets, one of the oldest known Native American crafts,  Welding and forging works of art, heritage wood crafts including bowl making, chair caning, and cabin building,  foraging through public lands for different kinds of edible food, classic Mexican cooking with our Hispanic community members, and our most … Read more
  • Top 5 rural and small town trends 2022
    Who knows what trends will affect small and rural communities in 2022 and beyond? Not many trends pieces cover rural places. These trends are specifically about rural and small towns. I’ve been following rural trends and writing about them since 2009. My trends reports have been commissioned or quoted by Main Street America, Emergent Research, the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues at the University of Kentucky, Farm Bureau’s Rural Community Building, Small Business Trends and the George H.W. Bush Points of Light Foundation. There’s a lot of uncertainty right now. These are larger scale trends that will be in play for … Read more
  • SaveYour.Town’s Year-long commitment to you: Building Fair and Unified Communities
    Our 2022 focus for you is fairness. Throughout last year, we helped you build community and unify diverse groups in your small town. You can read more about why and how we focused on community in 2021: Building community despite divisions. We still feel that bringing people from your community together across divides is the best thing you can do to rebuild the fabric of your community. And we want to build on that in 2022. We’re keeping our focus on building unified communities, and taking it a step further with fairness. It’s only fair that we open possibilities up … Read more
  • 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 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.  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. Future … Read more
  • Is your town accessible?
    There are some practical steps you can take right away to make your community easier for people of all ages and abilities.
  • How to replace an aging community swimming pool
    Lots of small towns are facing major issues with their swimming pools. Should they invest the funds in more repairs? Should they build a whole new pool or would a splash pad or something else be a better choice? Where should it be? A lot has changed since the old pools were built. People’s families are different, lives and recreation are different, and population has shifted, maybe even living in different locations. The Old Way You know what the usual process looks like. The city council, plus maybe some expert consultants, a presentation at city hall, some public input. A … Read more
  • Turn an empty lot into a market village with sheds
    Tionesta, Pennsylvania, picopolitan: population 300, had a big empty lot that they tried for years to get a developer to rebuild. Finally, they gave up on that and bought some garden sheds or storage sheds. They got a local carpenter to add false fronts to coordinate with their remaining downtown buildings, so they are really attractive. Then they opened it up for local businesses and entrepreneurs. It’s a kind of retail business incubator. They’ve seen local artisans expand into new locations, they’ve attracted branch businesses from out of town, and they have locals who this is just big enough for. … Read more
  • Why won’t people come to 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 … Read more
  • Every Single Street challenge
    How many people have traveled every single street in their town? When I was in Caldwell, Kansas, several people talked about a particular street of run down houses. Then we drove down it. In the first block, my host called out, “When did that building go up?!” And there were more positive surprises down the street. All in all, it wasn’t that bad, and there were lots of possibilities. But people still thought of it how it used to be in the past. An Every Single Street challenge can help change that thinking by getting people out to see how … Read more
  • How local businesses build empathy, and what that means for rural communities
    By Becky McCray 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 … Read more
  • Before you write your next plan
    Too often, planning starts from what we lack. Try a strengths assessment instead. 6 questions to kick off your thinking.
  • Benefits of learning Craft skills: share your story and strengthen your community
    Local entrepreneurs can make a big difference in rural prosperity. And crafters are a plentiful source for potential entrepreneurs in rural places.
  • How to grow a food and produce market business in a small town, the Idea Friendly Way
    Many small towns are working on growing their local food business ecosystems, and fresh food and produce markets are a common goal. Markets can be the center of building community, acting as a public common space where people across different parts of the community can interact. Project for Public Spaces studied the impacts of public markets on their communities. Markets are public spaces that help shape local communities and their economies for the better. Great public markets are: Expanding economic opportunity to more people Bringing together people from across different parts of the community Creating active public space to help … Read more
  • Creating an Arts Event on Short Notice Using the Idea Friendly Method
    Art matters to a vibrant community. Who are your artists and how can you showcase them using the Idea Friendly Method?
  • Why shared vision isn’t that important for small towns
    Many programs for small towns have a list prerequisites that starts with “shared vision.” Consensus seems to always be on the list of qualities you need to succeed as a town, and every small town success case study seems to start with “we had a compelling shared vision.” How you’re supposed to get there is usually left pretty vague. You’re not likely to find much helpful advice beyond platitudes like “Share a compelling vision everyone can get behind.” And hold a lot of community meetings. Yeah, that’ll fix it. I live in a town of 30 people, I don’t think … Read more
  • Who created the Idea Friendly Method
    SaveYour.Town co-founder Becky McCray explains how she came up with the Idea Friendly Method. Since the 1990s, I’ve brought new technology into organizations that were pretty stuck in their ways. Back then, I set up new computers, websites, chat tools and email accounts. Some people were excited and receptive to new tools, others were not open at all. You’ve probably run into the same reactions.  There were always a few people in power who resisted. They told me I needed to work my way up the ranks, to pay my dues before they would listen to me. They slowed down … Read more
  • Survey of Rural Challenges 2021 results
    Rural communities were not immune to the chaos of 2020, but remained more concerned with ongoing challenges. To find out what rural people felt were their biggest challenges, SaveYour.Town and surveyed over 280 rural people in the fourth quarter of 2020. The results make up this fourth edition of the Survey of Rural Challenges. Challenges stemming from the pandemic and economic crisis were ranked as less important than long-existing rural challenges. Continuing challenges with losses in housing, business and population ranked as the highest rural community challenges. The ongoing lack of workers, stiff competition from online businesses, and marketing ranked … Read more
  • Three successful models for downtown second story housing development in small towns
    Not every second story housing project is made possible by a bank loaning someone the money to build or rehab.
  • Placemaking for parks and trails: beautify chain link fences
    Something you see in almost every park is a chain link fence. Hardly the friendliest of welcomes. Check out these light, quick and cheap ways to apply placemaking to your chain link fences in parks and along trails.
  • SaveYour.Town’s Year-long commitment to you: building community despite divisions
    SaveYour.Town creates a lasting legacy for rural people. That’s our informal mission statement.  (If you know us, you know why we don’t have a formal mission statement!)  At the end of 2020, Deb and I looked at what is going on in the world. The division and hatred especially bothers both of us. It’s not just the U.S., because we see very similar deep divisions tearing at the fabric of other nations where you come from, including Canada, the UK and Australia. We wondered what we could do to make a difference. Here’s what we decided.  Throughout 2021, our commitment … Read more
  • Projects everyone can be part of bring your community together
    Painting murals using the paint by numbers method is a great way to bring people together and rally your community. In Webster City, Iowa, four groups–government, business, education and a nonprofit–created a creative placemaking art project that everyone could be involved in.  They picked a downtown building with some boarded up windows on the second floor that they could use as a canvas for some art. The building was a good choice for bringing different groups together: it is owned by a Latino, and many of the businesses in the ground floor serve Hispanic people and young people in the … Read more
  • 17 Tips from economic developers for supporting more small business startups
    What’s your tip for supporting more tiny business startups? I asked that question in my presentation for Mid-America EDC‘s Competitiveness Conference. Here are 17 tips people shared: 1. Social Media posts that encourage patrons.2. Provide education and information free of charge3. Support them – buy from them and promote them!4. Technical assistance to secure resources and capital necessary.5. Keep it simple at first.6. Use all the resources available free out there.7. Review city ordinances to see if they would make it difficult, and if so, advocate for change8. make space available, connect then to resources.9. Connect them to the SBDC.10. give … Read more
  • Volunteers not doing what you ask? Check 2 simple things
    Small towns run on volunteer energy. In the new Idea Friendly way of volunteering, not everyone has to volunteer in the same way. Even clicking ‘like’ can count as a small but meaningful part of a project. But how do you get people to even click ‘Like’?That was the question in the chat at one of our recent virtual conference presentations. First, the people have to actually like the idea. Maybe the people you’re asking don’t like the idea. And that’s OK. Second, maybe they really aren’t online people. Like your Old Way board members and volunteers, for example. Some … Read more
  • How to make downtown look fuller with local entrepreneur pop-ups
    Gearing up for the holiday shopping season in a small downtown is challenging in the best of years. And this is not the best of years. Social distancing means fewer crowds. Events we look forward to every year have been cancelled or drastically modified. Businesses we’ve relied on as downtown anchors may be struggling or already closed. Who wants to shop downtown when it looks so empty? Your challenge: make downtown look full or busy, even though it’s actually less busy this year. The complicating factor: respecting social distancing and helping people feel safe. Your best strategy: Fill as many … Read more
  • How has 2020 changed the challenges rural small towns face? Tell us here
    Seems like there have been a lot of coronavirus-related surveys this year. This survey is different: we’ve been asking for and listening to your rural challenges since 2015. Of course rural challenges are different this year with COVID-19. That doesn’t mean all your other challenges disappeared, but it might mean your priorities have changed. We’d like your help to get an updated view of the challenges to your community and your business, and what’s working well or not so much. The survey is open to rural people globally: USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand or any other country. If you live or work in small towns, … Read more
  • You don’t have to know all the answers
    You just have to be open to new ideas Our Idea Friendly Method is backed by research, but refreshingly simple and practical. Iowa State University studied 99 small towns for a period of over 20 years. In that time, those towns experienced every kind of change. Some lost a manufacturer, others gained a new business. Some lost a local school, some had big growth in their schools. Some were hit by natural disasters, others were spared. What the researchers concluded was that no matter what happened or didn’t happen, the towns that prospered the best were the ones that were … Read more
  • A sample cheap placemaking idea for 2020
    A sample idea from our new Cheap Downtown Placemaking Ideas video with Becky McCray and Deb Brown. Make sheet murals. Get cheap torn or stained sheets from the thrift shops, paint right on them, or sew them up into something decorative. Hang it up downtown, maybe inside the windows of a building, outside hung over a railing, or use magnets to stick it to anything with metal siding. 2020 took a toll on downtowns. To recover, we’re going to need some ideas to improve our downtowns, but on really small budgets. Make your downtown a more vibrant place with more … Read more
  • How small towns can recover from the coronavirus recession
    August 2020: It’s official. The United States is in recession. In other countries, recovery is just starting or maybe business is still on hold. For small towns worldwide looking to recover and rebuild their local economy, this is going to take some time. So we’re giving you more time with our three recovery videos: Restarting Local Shopping Rebuilding Your Local Economy Refilling Your Business Pipeline Yours to keep. No time limits. These are some of our most popular videos, and for good reason. We’ve put our best responses to this crisis into these three 30-minute videos. These are not boring webinars. … Read more
  • The best way to ensure small startups succeed: put them together
    Tiny business startups are our best bet for revitalizing rural areas, small towns and distressed economies. To help these small entrepreneurs to be more successful, put them into the same space. This is a short sample from our SaveYour.Town video “Refilling Your Business Pipeline.” A study about co-working actually explains why the Tiny Temporary Together model works so well at rebuilding your local economy. It has benefits far beyond the simple number of startups. Emergent Research said that co-working spaces are much more than just a place to work, “they are places where members work, network, learn and socialize together.” People … Read more
  • Rebuilding Your Local Economy
    How do we rebuild our local economy? This crisis is different for each community. So many jobs lost, so many businesses gone or in bad shape. Most of the reopening and rebuilding advice out there is intended for big cities. It doesn’t match our small town reality. What works for rural communities trying to rebuild? Everyone else is competing for the same limited resources.  How do we compete?  What if we can’t compete? New programs are complicated to access without help And they may not be enough to save businesses already in trouble Tighter government and nonprofit budgets mean resources we used to … Read more
  • Restarting Local Shopping – How one town is preparing now
    Jack in Georgetown, South Carolina, USA, shared what they are doing to renew, refresh and recover during and after the lockdown of coronavirus/COVID-19. Deb Brown shares all five ideas: Pressure wash everything downtown Adopt a planter box Photo banners in empty buildings Wall murals Outdoor market with existing businesses They are Taking Small Steps with each little action, Gathering Their Crowd to find as many people as possible who can help, and Building Connections to people who have the resources they need. That’s Idea Friendly! Get more ideas from this Restarting Local Shopping video Every town will face challenges when … Read more
  • Ideas to fill up empty lots in small towns
    You probably have one in your downtown. Maybe a building burned, or maybe the roof just fell in. These things happen. Now you have an empty space, maybe with walls, or maybe just an open lot. What can you do with a roofless building? The standard answer for small town governments has been to make a pocket park: a little green space, a bench or two, and that’s about it. Maybe a memorial or piece of art. Pocket parks are OK, but they aren’t the only possibility. There’s much more we can do. This is a good place to apply … Read more
  • We gave up planning the old way
    My small town hosted an international photojournalist, Brendan Hoffman, in residency at the local paper. A town of 8,000 people managed to take a 6 week free class on Using Photography to Tell Your Stories, view an exhibition of War In Ukraine, and personally visit with the photographer and share ideas for stories in the community.  The Old Way I bet you believe we had a ton of meetings, had to fund raise to bring this man in from the Ukraine and host him for two months, and spend lots of money on exhibition space and marketing as well. It … Read more
  • Survey of Rural Challenges 2019 results
      What small town people see as their biggest challenges And what topics rural people most want help with Wouldn’t it be great if the people who say they want to help rural people would actually listen to rural people’s own challenges?! That’s why we created this survey! We use the results to create practical steps that help you shape a better future for your town. Your responses also get shared out to others who work with rural communities through articles and media stories. Using these survey results, we developed a free video of action steps you can take to … Read more
  • Shop Indie Local
    WHAT IS THIS SHOP INDIE ALL ABOUT?   It’s called the Shop Indie Local campaign and it encourages you to take a step toward strengthening your own local economy. We shoppers collectively spend a large part of our annual shopping budget between November 1 and December 31. What if you shifted your shopping dollars to your locally owned, independent businesses? Every dollar spent at a local, independent business returns 2-3 times more to be re-spent in the community compared to a dollar spent at a non-local business. With consumers reporting that they will spend an average $1,007 for holiday shopping this … Read more
  • About those experts who want to save your town for you
    Small towns have been beaten up by too many experts who claim to have the one solution that will save every town. Over the decades, we’ve heard them all, from coworking hubs, to community branding, to flipping your town.
  • Add your needs to the Survey of Rural Challenges
    Every small town has its own set of assets, issues and opportunities, but many of us share common challenges. We created the Survey of Rural Challenges so you could share your own view of rural, and we could better help you. A total of 479 people answered our previous surveys, and we’d like your help to get an updated view. We’re asking about challenges to your community and your business, and what’s working well or not so much. We use the results to create practical steps that help you shape a better future for your town. Your responses also get … Read more
  • Is it really about money?
    For those of you that work in different organizations, chambers, and economic development groups that want to see your town thrive- I understand you have a budget. I get it, I’ve been there. You have to justify an expense to your board and explain why you think it is important. If they don’t understand what you’re saying, they often say no. Let’s take a look at what a $300 investment annually with SaveYour.Town can do for your group. In order to do that, we have to determine how important your small town is to your organization. Do you want to … Read more
  • The one revitalization idea we recommend for every small town
    You probably know that we don’t have any standard plans here at SaveYour.Town. We don’t have a pre-written template that we try to force onto every town, but we do have one recommendation that works for almost every town. And that is to divide big spaces up for small businesses to share. It helps you address some of the most common challenges, like entrepreneurs unable to find usable buildings or buildings that would be hugely expensive to renovate. It’s also hard to bring people downtown when there just aren’t that many businesses and their surrounded by those vacant spaces in … Read more
  • Big Ideas? Small Steps!
    You have a big idea to make your town a better place and you’re getting tired of all the hard work to do such a big thing. Tired of beating your head against city council asking for approvals Killing yourself trying to raise enough money to do the whole thing Talking to everyone and they all like the idea but no one is taking action But there is another way. In small towns especially, big ideas are best accomplished by taking small steps. At SaveYour.Town, we developed the Idea Friendly method for small towns to do big things. There are … Read more
  • Our events are sooooo boring …
    We received a note that said, in part: “At the two events run here in the past 10 yrs at least 50% of the tents were things like tents for domestic violence help, police giving home security tips & opportunities to report problems, STD clinic tents etc etc.etc.  These are obviously incredibly important but it made the event really depressing. It made me wonder  what kind of place I had moved to, and made a few things hard to explain to my then small children.“ I agree, these organizations and their work IS important. But, how do we get them … Read more
  • People don’t shop local, and businesses won’t work together
    There are two common problems in small towns, and we think they are related: Our people shop online or in the city when they could buy the same or better things from local stores. And then when we try to get local businesses to work together to keep people shopping local, we can’t get them to cooperate! Today, we want to address these two related problems with a video focusing on cooperation. If we could get businesses to work together to get the word out, we could create a lot more sales opportunities and bring the locals home to shop. … Read more
  • Survey Asked: How do we get people to open up B and B’s?
    In our survey of Rural Challenges in 2017 we received many results, and many questions. One of them was ‘how do we get people to open B and B’s?’ Small towns often have great natural resources, events and activities and many reasons to visit. However, they don’t always have hotels, motels, B and B’s – accommodations. You might be surprised that people are already providing a place to stay! I think you’d be pleasantly surprised if you search for your area. There ARE people who are doing short term rentals in your area. One of the problems I see, … Read more
  • Finding the resources you need before you can take action
      You have everything you need. I know it’s really hard to believe, but play along with me for a minute, if you would. When I was in Illinois, people brought up a lot of issues holding them back. The city council is spending money on the wrong priorities. The local foundation is giving money to the wrong things. There aren’t any entrepreneurs in town, so we need to recruit from outside. What if the answer to all of those is already at hand? It doesn’t matter what the council is doing. You don’t need them. Go do your thing, … Read more
  • Small towns have a future; do you see it?
    Not everyone sees a future for small towns. That’s clear from media reports that question the future of small towns and articles that talk about what’s wrong with rural people. It’s clear that rural people are assumed to be less ambitious than urban people. Small towns are often mentioned as some place that humanity should leave behind in the inevitable march of progress and urbanization. People in our own town reinforce this idea that we have no future. They compare us to their version of the past and say things like, “I remember when I was a kid, this town … Read more
  • Turn networking events into relationship building opportunities
    Networking is important, we all know that.  We need to meet people to advance whatever agenda we are working on.  Networking is the buzzword of this century.  You hear it everywhere. It means to interact with each other to exchange information and develop contacts. You’ve been to networking events. Usually there’s time to sit and visit, maybe have a cocktail.  Then there’s a program of some sort.  Finally you either go to work, or you go home.  Maybe you’ve exchanged business cards with someone.  You’ve probably made small talk, talked about the latest sporting event, or discussed some political thing.  … Read more
  • Videos to help you save your small town in 2019
    A new video each month in 2019 Available from the 1st to the 15th On rural topics you asked for   Have you had trouble catching our SaveYour.Town videos because you could never predict when they’d be available? You’ll love our 2019 schedule. When do new videos come out? Throughout 2019, you can rely on a new video to come out on the first of the month and stay available through the 15th. You can schedule watch parties for the First Friday or Second Tuesday or any combination like that, and know you’ll have a SaveYour.Town video to share. What … Read more
  • The Idea Friendly Method explained
    Can you make a small town more open to new ideas? Yes, and it may be the most important thing you can do. In a world driven by frenetic change, which small towns are going to thrive? We know rural people play a key role in our society, so some small towns will have a future. Some small towns are innovative and progressive. Other small towns are stuck in the past. Is there anything that tells us which towns will survive and prosper? The key factor is openness to new ideas. Openness to new ideas is an advantage for rural areas addressing … Read more
  • Plant the Seeds
    Pamela Slim, author of Body of Work and developer of the Indispensable Community Tour  shares these 35 ways to seed and support your community. 35 Ways to seed and support your community (created by the Sunnyvale Community Group) 1.     Facilitate a LinkedIn introduction for a community member 2.     Create a YouTube video with helpful content 3.     Follow up via email with a valued contact and let them know how much you believe in them 4.     Showcase of photo of them with an expression of success on your FB page 5.     Highlight the story/accomplishment of a member of your community 6.     Celebrate their … Read more
  • When your small town has to start with nothing
    Sometimes, when someone is telling me about their town, they’ll say it. “We have nothing here! Nothing!”  It bothers me. Surely you have something to work with? Des Walsh is a friend of mine from Australia who has strong rural ties. He told me about a village that had nothing. “Many years ago I visited the Jogjakarta region, on Java in Indonesia. My Indonesian host took me on a local tour, including to a small village which was very poor, and this at a time when Indonesia had a great deal more poverty than it has now.” The host said … Read more
  • Telling Stories
    My mom loved looking at Becky’s iPad. That’s because whenever Becky visited she showed her pictures of animals in far away places. I believe that we are given a chance to share the world with each other. Some of us travel just a few miles away from home, yet can share the stories of our farms, the ball diamonds where the kids play, the creeks where the bullfrogs croak and the tall grasses up on the hill and you can close your eyes and imagine yourself there.  You know the old timer that takes you on a trip back to … Read more
  • Idea Friendly Stepping Out
    It’s so easy to become entrenched in our day to day activities. We get up, go into our morning routine, go to work, come home and then our evening routine. How many times a week do you drive to work and wonder what you saw on the way there? Were there stop lights, empty buildings, holiday decorations, or kids waiting on the school bus? It’s this same sameness day in and day out that holds us captive to the same ‘ol same ‘ol. We start to believe we don’t really matter that much, that our ideas just might be too … Read more
  • Don’t you already know what’s wrong with your small town?
      There’s an entire class of consultants out there who will come to your town and tell you what’s wrong with it. They take their template that they apply to every town from 500 to 500,000, and they walk around your town to see where you don’t fit. Then they make a long list of everything you’re doing wrong. They’ll dress it up nice with a report and binders for everyone on the council and a nice presentation. Then they leave. You’re on your own to figure out what to do with that list, how to figure out what to … Read more
  • Be Specific
    The most common question visitors ask is “what is there to do here?”  When I work in a community during an embedded experience I help them find better ways to answer this question. In Avon, MN I asked them what they liked about their community. The majority of the answers were pretty generic, something like this: The location is close to a major highway and a larger town The lakes and the resources that are available Trails system is good Great schools for our kids The small town feel and family friendly environment we have Our voters invest in the district … Read more
  • Retail marketing in a small town
    How are you marketing your retail business? Small town retailers often fit into two marketing categories: old school way and idea friendly way. Old school way is doing things the way you’ve always done them, hoping it will continue to work. Idea Friendly marketing is using all the tools you can that are available to you, depending on who your market is. If you’re product is only for locals, then get on the matching Social Media channel. If it’s over 55 women go to Facebook, young kids are on Snapchat. Are your locals on twitter? Have you looked for them … Read more
  • Voting on ideas is a waste of time
      When I met with the people interested in forming a downtown development group in Pullman, Washington, I shared some basic ideas about the Innovative Rural Business Models, then we all walked through downtown together to spot opportunities. At the end, a reporter asked me why I didn’t start in the usual way. He said he was expecting me to have everyone write down all the ideas for what they want in their downtown, then sort all the ideas into related goals, then let everyone vote on what they thought was most important. That’s the usual pattern for building consensus and … Read more
  • What do you do with your newcomers?
    Do you even know who the newcomers are in your town? One way to find out is to ask your realtors, they’ve sold them houses or condos. That seems like a lot of work to welcome newcomers one by one, after the realtor has shared the information, if they even will share it. Bennettsville, SC hosts a Newcomers Gathering every couple of months. It’s a loose collection of people inviting newcomers to join the event one evening in town. The realtors invite people personally. They post flyers around town including the library, city hall where you set up new gas … Read more
  • So what if they said it’s illegal?
      “Every one of your Innovative Rural Business Models is illegal!” That was what the code enforcement guy said to me, and to the whole audience, when he spoke after I did. I just nodded and agreed. Yes, sure they are in some towns or in some circumstances. But so what? Don’t let an outdated law or rule stop a great idea for your community. Whether it’s a business or a project, you have options to move forward. The code enforcement guy went on to talk for an hour about how outdated rules and codes hold small towns back, and how they can and should adopt new … Read more
  • Idea Friendly doesn’t mean you have to add anything new
      When we talk about doing things the Idea Friendly way, you might think I’m asking you to do a lot of new things. I’m not. You’re doing plenty now, maybe more than enough. And you have the tools you need, right there in that phone in your hand. You just need to shift some key behaviors. Every time someone proposes doing things with an Old Way behavior, you can suggest  a new Idea Friendly behavior instead. It can be as simple as saying, “Imagine IF….” and then telling about the Idea Friendly way. (“IF” is the abbreviation for Idea … Read more
  • This is something you can do
    I’m so tired of getting asked to serve on a committee. I don’t have time to attend once a month, let alone once a week. I don’t even know if I’ll be in town to come! My health requires my attention. My kids need me. My husband is ticked because I’m always gone somewhere. Seriously, this committee stuff has to stop. STOP HOLDING COMMITTEE MEETINGS.  Want to work on the flowers in the park? Go to the park and work on them. Invite some friends to join you. You don’t need to hold a meeting to talk about working on … Read more
  • 5 Steps to Better Customer Service
    I visit a lot of small towns. Some of our businesses have gotten lackadaisical and think locals should shop with them, just because they are a store in their town. That is not true. Small town businesses must make their customers feel important and welcome. “What causes someone to not be loyal to a business is when we feel unimportant in some way due to that business,” said Chris Brogan How do you make your customers feel important?  1. Keep a clean store. No one wants to shop in a junky environment where you can’t get around to look at the … Read more
  • When your town loses its economic reason for being
    How many times has your town lost its economic reason for being? Think back to the reason your town was founded. Did it start with farming or transportation? Maybe it was minerals or other natural resources. No matter what it was, I’m willing to bet that it is not the prime driver in your town right now. Do you know what the next economic reason was that kept your town alive? Was there a boom? A new factory? Did a highway come through? Even that might not be your town’s reason now. How many times has your community adapted to … Read more
  • How art helps small towns recover from disasters
    Delmont, South Dakota (pop 234), was struck by a tornado in 2015. Several people were injured, and the whole town was evacuated for safety. You could forgive the people of Delmont for despairing for the future of their town. Would anyone ever come back? Clean up and repairs started, and the town slowly made progress on recovering. In the months after, community members were meeting to talk through ongoing recovery efforts. Kenny Sherin, South Dakota State University Center for Community Vitality, was there for the meetings, and he shared this story with me. At one of those community meetings, he … Read more
  • What will the future look like for small towns?
    First, location doesn’t matter. More and more people are working remotely and/or creating their own entrepreneurial businesses. Is your town ready for new people? Have you got cool housing (think lofts, downtown living) for younger people? Is your downtown active, have the kinds of businesses that people want? Your communities will be more walkable and offer many choices. Education gained in the real word will assist you in adapting to the future. Did you learn how to code on your own? That counts. What other hands on education have you received? Are you an artist, do you make handmade products? … Read more
  • Sorry I didn’t read your “rural is dying” article
    That’s not actually true. I did read your article. And I shook my head through the whole thing. And I set aside being busy long enough to write down a few thoughts in response.     You went with the “this town is dying, all of rural is dying” theme. (The only other ones that I see used very much are “small towns are the idyllic past” and “rural people are a bunch of nuts.”) I’d rather talk about the #SmallTownNow than your same old stories. I disagree with your fundamental premise. Rural has a future. Small towns have long-standing relevance … Read more
  • Eloy, AZ: Who’s First? (part three)
    Someone has to be first.  It takes a brave person, or group of persons to step up to the plate and say “We’ll go first.  We believe in this town.  We think our business idea is sound and we want to open a business here.” The first group of folks got together and opened up a shop called The Heart of Eloy Store, located where else – in the heart of Eloy.  It’s a resale shop and they all volunteer there.  It’s been cleaned up beautifully, donations will be accepted and items are then sold. Mark Benner, the Chamber Director, … Read more
  • Every place has people and assets to build on
    Richard Florida is one of the most widely-read urban theorists, author of several books related to the Creative Class. He’s long been an advocate for urban areas, urbanization, and urban life. His writings have popularized a move towards focusing on the amenities needed to attract the Creative Class and thereby assure the future of your city. It always sounds to me like the people you have now don’t matter and the smaller your town, the bigger your disadvantage trying to attract those creatives. It’s all so urban-oriented that I’ve viewed it rather skeptically. Or at least, I’ve been skeptical about … Read more
  • Eloy, Arizona – It Starts With Believers (Part two)
      You don’t need to be born and raised in a town to believe it can be the best town to live and work in. Mark Benner, the Chamber Director moved to Eloy to help take care of his mom. Jon Vlaming, the Community Development Director for the City has only been there for a year. Both of these gentlemen teamed up with Dick Myers, the President of the Santa Cruz Historic Museum Board. Now Dick has been in town a long time, since he was 4 years old, and he’s the go to guy for the history of the … Read more
  • Eloy, Arizona – Is There Possibility There? (part one)
    Eloy, Arizona is a town of about 16,000 located 50 miles northwest of Tucson. Mark Benner is the Executive Director of the Chamber of Commerce and Mark took advantage of our Tour of Empty Buildings Toolkit. I was in Tucson for Chamber professional development and had the opportunity to head to Eloy to meet with Mark and his team and discuss how they could utilize the Toolkit. Eloy is spread out over approximately 100 square miles with 145 people per square mile. There are about 2,000 families living in Eloy. Of those, 58% are Hispanic, 5% are African American, 4% … Read more
  • How a tour of empty buildings can open your eyes
    Building Possibility started as a book idea, and is gradually turning into one.  There are seven principles to building possibility and the first one is Open Your Eyes.  It’s first because as humans we tend to get caught up in the every day and forget to look around us and see what there is. People that live in big cities don’t even notice the homeless people on the streets, they are just there everyday and are part of the day to day.  If you see someone in a small town homeless chances are you probably know them.  And you’ll probably … Read more

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