#301. HandMade in America

Posted on | The Agurban

HandMade in America

In nearly every talk I have done over the past 7 years I have included the story of HandMade in America. This organization began in 1993 when a group of almost 400 citizens participated in a regional planning process to help determine how the organization could establish Western North Carolina as the center of the handmade object in the United States. HandMade in America’s mission is to grow handmade economies through craft, cultural heritage and community assets. This group has done much to expand the economic base of a typically very poor area of our country.

HandMade in America’s Small Towns Newsletter arrived in my Inbox last week.  One entry in particular caught my eye – 
Ways to Grow and Sustain Community Involvement in Small Towns. This list was assembled by a group of small town community members from western North Carolina, but it could very easily have been from any small town gathering. Here’s their list:
·         Events
·         Feed them well
·         Relationships
·         Attainable goals & building blocks
·         Tangible results and visible successes
·         Keep projects small, keep them interesting
·         Solicit community input – “give us your 2 cents worth”
·         Good, clear communication with all local people
·         Put the spotlight on different community members, tell their story
·         Look beyond local to regional and statewide initiatives
·         Include business, community and civic groups
·         Perseverance – “we took a shabby little town and made it beautiful”
·         Peer networks, learning from other towns, keeping momentum going
·         Having a paid staff member dedicated to the program and projects
·         Core leadership that steps up to the plate
·         Accept no other outcome than success

Other hot topics discussed included:
·         Keeping enthusiasm going – by training future leaders, engaging small business owners (thinking outside their 4 walls), youth engagement, matching volunteers with projects related to their interest and enthusiasm, making sure everyone understands the mission and vision of the organization.
·         Show us the money – everyone chases grant resources, but do you receive your fair share of county taxes? Ask entrepreneurs and local people – offer naming options for windows and seats, churches and civic groups. Re-think the project when you have a chance to apply for something else; keep the momentum going.
·         Engaging youth – …keep young kids interested – you have to give them leeway to run things, work with cooperative extension, start a skate part. Need to have a broad perspective. Trick is to get and keep them involved. Look at ways to re-engage people who may not live in the area, but still consider it home. We export our young talent – we need to teach them to take pride in the town where they grew up, and create young entrepreneurs.

Could this be your small town? Do you have plans in place to address these topics? Are you involved in seeing that the process is carried out? You should be!

To sign up for HandMade in America’s newsletters visit 

To learn more about HandMade in America, click