It’s time to change the problem-centric narratives we use when talking about small towns and rural areas to a more productive conversation that supports entrepreneurs in developing solutions.
It’s easy to see the lack of infrastructure, population loss and opioid crisis as major deficits to the more rural areas of America. It’s just as easy to use those deficits as a reason to embrace a solutions-oriented mindset. Rural entrepreneurs can help communities move beyond the convenient skepticism of their own potential and instead develop solutions to long-standing rural challenges.
This mindset is leading to scalable new ventures in rural places like Missoula, Montana, where a lack of childcare had working parents scrambling to find quality childcare providers. The company MyVillage flipped the common problem-centric narrative by creating a web platform for matching care-seekers with qualified providers, a solution that came from entrepreneurs in the very same place where problems were occurring.
MyVillage is an example of changing the perspective of a common rural problem — lack of childcare — and reframing it into an entrepreneurial opportunity.
The existing resources and assets of small towns can also be leveraged to better support entrepreneurs. The 2018 Rural RISE report highlights the unique advantages found in rural communities. Among these resources are the lower cost of living, which goes a long way when starting and maintaining a business, willing and trusted collaborators, and an untapped nationwide source of new ideas.
Rural entrepreneurs can also benefit from community-driven advantages. A great sense of community can help an entrepreneur build key relationships. In a small town, no one says “no” to coffee or a chat, and the result is a collective willingness to see past the obvious problems and go after the uncommon solutions.
We can see these advantages at work in the unexpected new businesses that take root in rural communities. In Emporia, Kansas, Dynamic Discs started because of founder Jeremy Ruscoe’s disc golf hobby. What at first began as a store selling discs and equipment evolved into manufacturing and eventually became the world’s largest disc golf tournament benefitting new businesses across the region.
Those advantages and resources that helped entrepreneurs find success in Missoula and Emporia are the same reasons more people have expressed interest in moving to rural communities. In fact, a recent nationwide survey from the Pew Research Center concluded that 30% of city residents and 35% of suburban people would consider moving to a rural area. Cities may get the attention, but living and thriving in a small town or rural area can get you a lot farther than other parts of the country.
The rural deficit is really the entrepreneurship deficit, and this won’t change if we don’t look at the entire system; starting first with stories that support the ideas of rural entrepreneurs rather than dismissing them. Even as we work to create a positive outlook in rural communities, we shouldn’t lose sight of the real challenges that rural communities face.
Reinvention is happening all over the world, in all communities — rural leaders can take charge by fostering their own community of hometown entrepreneurs. They are a gold mine of entrepreneurial solutions. It’s just a matter of looking past the convenient skepticism.
This article has been changed to correct a statistic from the Pew Research Center.