#221. Prospering Rural Communities

Posted on | The Agurban

Prospering Rural Communities

The general view of rural America is one of dying rural communities, beset by poverty, a lack of opportunity, declining populations. Research led by Andrew Isserman, a professor in the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Economics at the University of Illinois, concludes that this consensus is unfounded.”Far more rural people live amidst local growth than face local decline,” Isserman states. “In 2000, six million rural residents lived in counties that would decline 2% or more by 2005, but six times as many – 36 million – lived in counties that would grow 2% or more.” Isserman continued, “Making non-metropolitan synonymous with rural omits more than half the nation’s rural population. When you actually look at rural areas – the 97% of U.S. territory not in an urban or suburban area – you get a very different picture.”

Isserman and his team also set out to define prosperity, using a broader set of measures. “Our definition includes education and housing as well as poverty and unemployment,” states Isserman. “The ability of a community to keep its children in school through high school and the housing conditions its residents face are reasonable indicators of a community’s prosperity.”

Applying these definitions of rural and prosperity, the researchers found more than 400 prosperous rural counties. Prosperous counties have lower poverty rates, lower unemployment rates, lower high school dropout rates, and lower rates of housing problems than the nation as a whole.

The keys to rural prosperity?

According to Isserman, “Some of our statistical results support what many rural people believe to be true. Religious groups and other identities that bind people together can really matter. Other findings are more conventional. Rural communities with relatively more people with some college education are more likely to prosper, as are communities with vigorous, competitive, private economies.”

Contradicting conventional wisdom, the study also found that geographical factors that are impossible or expensive to change, including climate and distances to cities and major airports, are relatively unimportant in distinguishing prosperous and other rural places. This confirms the same finding we found in our research for Boomtown USA. Successful towns make do with what they have.

In Isserman’s conclusion, he comments, “…prosperity does not happen on its own. It happens through solid and visionary leadership, having a “Can-Do” attitude and exhibiting a willingness to take risks. It happens through knowing what your town’s strengths and resources are and how to leverage those strengths and resources. It happens through building a brand for your town, a concept that often prompts quizzical looks, yet one that successful small towns have embraced.” Sound familiar? That quote is from Boomtown USA – The 7 ½ Keys to Big Success in Small Towns!

To view the entire report, click here.