#766 – Survey of Rural Challenges – 2019 Results

Posted on | The Agurban

Back in July of this year, we asked our readers to help our friend Becky McCray, by participating in her “Survey of Rural Challenges.” Thank you to all who took part and shared their experiences. Becky recently passed along the results with us of the 2019 Survey.

Survey of Rural Challenges – 2019 Results

The survey asks rural people what challenges they most want help with and what actions they are taking to address them. The results don’t match the common themes in media coverage and policy conversation around rural communities.

  • Are rural people focused on well-publicized crises like opioid addiction or poverty? No, other challenges were selected much more often. Crime and drug abuse ranked in the bottom five of the standard choices. In their own words, fewer than a dozen people each mentioned drug abuse or poverty. Three times as many mentioned negative or angry people as a top challenge they’d like help with. 
  • Are most rural communities devastated by lost factories, closing mines or damaging natural disasters? No, “our town has suffered a terrible blow” remains one of the least chosen options on all three rounds of the survey in 2015, 2017 and 2019. 
  • Is the lack of small business lending a big challenge in small towns? Needing a business loan did not made it into the list of top 5 challenges chosen. More than twice as many people selected the lack of good employees as a challenge.  

Rural Community Challenges – Top five concerns at the community-wide level this year are very similar to the results from 2017 and 2015.

  1. Losing young people
  2. Downtown is dead
  3. Not enough good housing
  4. Need new residents
  5. No one shops in town

“Losing young people” and “Downtown is dead” have dominated the top 2 spots in 2015, 2017 and 2019. “Not enough good housing” is a new entry that wasn’t included as a choice in the 2017 or 2015 surveys. “No one shops in town” also appears in the top 5 in all three rounds of the survey.

Small-town Business Owner Challenges – Almost ½ of those surveyed identified themselves as current or prospective small business owners. Here are the top five challenges they chose.

  1. Can’t find good employees
  2. Marketing isn’t working
  3. People buy from online competitors
  4. Tried opening later hours without success
  5. Need a business idea

A new choice, “Can’t find good employees” was chosen by over 50% of respondents making it the number one challenge. It replaced a previous choice, “Need help but cannot hire,” in the top 5.

“Marketing isn’t working” has been consistently in the second spot, and “Opening later hours without success” remains in the top 5 on all three surveys. Online competition moved up to 3rd this year from 6th in 2017 and 2015. Needing a business idea returned to the top 5 after dropping to 9th in 2017.

What’s working – A new question in 2019 asked people what they or their community are trying to address their challenges. The four choices ranked in this order.

  1. Traditional economic development groups
  2. Informal idea copying
  3. Formal programs
  4. Other things

Traditional economic development was the clear top choice with over 75%, and informal copying of ideas was chosen in over 50% of the responses.

About the survey methodology

The survey was open for approximately 6 weeks in June and July 2019. A total of 680 responses were collected online, from subscribers and visitors to SaveYour.Town and SmallBizSurvival.com and from media coverage and cooperating groups that chose to publicize the survey. Respondents identified themselves as rural, and 320 identified themselves as business owners by responding to the business question. Participants included 623 from the USA, 39 from Canada, 13 from Australia and 5 from other international locations.

Previous results from the Survey of Rural Challenges

The 2017 survey results are available here and the 2015 survey results are available here.