Top 5 rural and small town trends 2022

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 years, not super micro trends that are already obvious or so small they’re subject to change next week.

Top 5 Rural and Small Town Trends for 2022 and beyond

1. New residents arriving.

After saying for years that remote work would bring more people to choose a rural residence, here we are: Zoom Towns!

The real trend isn’t an explosive exodus from major tech and population centers, but the more subtle diffusion of opportunities to a broader swath of places.

We’re seeing the convergence of multiple factors:

  • a pandemic that forced a major adoption of remote work
  • pent up demand for rural living
  • improving rural broadband
  • the great resignation and re-evaluation of life choices
  • climate and disasters shifting relocation decisions
  • increased rural tourism through the boom in road trips

Bonus trend: People are eager to belong.

With more people relocating, expect an increase in deliberate community building, reaching across polarizing divides.

Watch for projects in:

  • Neighboring
  • Beautification
  • Belonging

2. Natural environment regenerating.

The shift from simple awareness or protection of the environment to deliberately trying to make things around you better.

Innovative farmers and ranchers are being better stewards, improving the land and environment with each successive season.

Indigenous People and Native Tribes are gaining control of more of their traditional lands, fostering regeneration and advocating environmental policy improvements.

Natural resources are changing, and new sustainable natural resources booms are coming that make sense in rural places including:

  • timber and lignin
  • mushroom and other natural fiber materials
  • dirt, clay and earthen buildings
  • renewable and greener energy

3. Leadership and power shifting.

Much like the surge in new residents, the shift in leadership started a long time ago. In 2015, we developed our Idea Friendly Method to help you understand and adapt to the shift from the formal to informal, from centralized to community, from control to chaos.

Awareness of the change is finally percolating up, even to the World Economic Forum. And it’s also percolating down, to the level of local organizations and officials in small towns.

Watch for:

  • Less emphasis on joining boards or committees to talk about change
  • More emphasis on joining activities you enjoy to take action

4. Rural healthcare reimagined.

Pressured by financial crises, closures and staff shortages before the pandemic, rural health care is due for reimagining. Between improving telemedicine and rapid advances in smart everything, will we still need general hospitals in small towns in 10 years? Do we really need them now? We’re already seeing rural communities come up with innovative answers that improve health care without focusing so much on the building.

Keep an eye on:

  • Community involvement in health care facilities and futures
  • Smart use of technology to improve people’s health

5. Economic barriers falling.

Equitable economic development is the buzzword of the moment in grants, programs and planning. For small towns, it’s really about making entrepreneurship easier for more people and creating a fairer economy.

Small towns are the testing grounds for the future, and rural people innovate. Want to be resilient in the next big crisis? Tap our innovative spirit.

Focus now on developing:

  • Local supply chain
  • Small makers
  • Artisans
  • Tiny manufacturers

Free video report:

Watch our in depth report at SaveYour.Town: 2022 Rural Trends.

Video: Rural Trends for 2022 from SaveYour.Town, Building Fair and Unified Communities