The death of “Small Town U.S.A.” … or maybe not!

(I wrote this a couple years ago – but it’s probably more relevant today than ever!)

A couple of weeks ago I saw an MSNBC piece on an independent movie made about the small town of Medora, Indiana. Medora has a population of about 600 and is known, notoriously, for its high school basketball team, and its 2009 twenty-two game losing streak and their pursuit to win just one game. But there’s much more about the film than just basketball – and there’s also much more about Medora.

Like many, many other small towns around America, they’re struggling for their survival. In Medora’s case, they’re reeling from losing a plastics factory, the town’s main employer … as well as staring at the possibility of even losing their identity, their high school. Below is the interview on MSNBC with directors Andrew Cohn and Davey Rothbart.

A major tenant of this blog, “On the Road to Your Perfect World,” has been community empowerment and having their people “take back the power” and  with that having a say in their future. I’ve been lamenting ad nauseam that our government will not be there for us, and nor will corporate America. It’s up to us to fight back and save our communities, and save our neighborhoods. Because if we don’t – nobody will.

But what if it’s not that easy. What if the people can’t help their community, can’t be there to help their neighbors …and maybe can’t even help themselves.

I was having a conversation on Twitter with a friend of mine, @celticperegrini, about the skills will needed to succeed or even survive in the coming years, especially in America’s small towns. That conversation led to this post.

The death of “Small Town U.S.A.”

The standard answer is – go to college, study math and sciences or health care, and so on. But before you jump both feet into mountains of debt, let’s talk about some thing even more fundamental, attitudes.

So here is my idea of the proper skill set “Small Town U.S.A.” circa 2012 and beyond. Actually, it’s more a set of attitudes. Because without the proper frame of mind – all the training money can buy, will be all for not.

  • Embrace change and be flexible. Expect your life to be turned upside down tomorrow when you wake up. Strike the word security from your vocabulary. The only security you’ll have in 2012, especially in a small town, is yourself and ability to navigate the inevitable changes that will “slap you in the face” when you least expect it. Don’t be pre-occupied with trying to hang on to “the way things were.” The only constant in life is change … so deal with it!
  • Embrace technology. Technology and specifically the internet is everywhere, and embedded in everything. Technology will buffer you from the ups and down of a local economy. Become adept at social media – for social media (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.) will widen your reach of contacts and ultimately the support when you need it most. The internet will also enable you to create income being a “location independent” micro-entrepreneur.
  • Embrace your community. Your community, your neighbors, are your primary safety net and support structure. Don’t be a recluse. Lend a hand whenever you can. Be the “go-to person” in your town. Be the “help” leader that people will follow. Be the one that is the first one to rally the people to make things better for all. A positive, action oriented attitude is contagious.
  • Embrace the youth. Make your town the one that welcomes young people. For it’s the young people who will create the new opportunities, the opportunities that will keep your town’s death at bay. Don’t be part of a town that only tries to “hang to yesterday,” and tries to prevent any intrusion into this allegedly idyllic time … the time that is no longer and never will be. Business owners need to part of the solution also. Mentoring and internship programs do wonders keeping your young talent at home, rather than having them leave town for better opportunities.
  • Focus on businesses that serve out-of-town customers. If you’re an entrepreneur, stay away from ventures that serve only your fellow community members, especially if the services you offer already exist locally. Don’t depend on revenue only generated from your community. Be responsible for bringing needed money into the community rather than cannibalize the existing businesses of your neighbors.

Ultimately, all the above suggestions are about change. People generally want things to be the same or the way they were. Small towns, often populated primarily with older residents – are especially resistance to change. It’s this attitude that decimates a community. “Small Town U.S.A.” doesn’t need to be a thing of the past, only a distant memory.

It needs only to change … to change its attitudes.

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I can be found on Twitter at @clayforsberg.

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5 thoughts on “The death of “Small Town U.S.A.” … or maybe not!

  1. Thanks for this post. The skill set you describe is what is needed across all areas, rural and otherwise. Unfortunately, formal education isn’t currently geared to delivering it, but there is a wide world of informal educational opportunities that are.

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