Small town population: The story behind the numbers

73 Kansas counties participate in the Rural Opportunity Zones program.

73 Kansas counties participate in the Rural Opportunity Zones program.

Small communities are often worried about population. According to a Carsey Institute report, rural America contains 75% of the country’s land and 17% of its population. Understanding shifts in population and 21st century opportunities in rural America are important for everyone.

Stereotypes abound about small town, rural America. Stereotypes like backwards towns, where everyone wears overalls and drives a tractor. Stereotypes like isolated ghost towns. Stereotypes like a dead end road of limited opportunities.

In reality, only 6% of rural residents are employed in agriculture. In reality, many small towns are meccas for new types of industries, or at least, new-to-them industries. In reality, many small towns are becoming tourist destinations, research centers, or tranquil homes for telecommuters.

Population numbers mean a lot to small communities. Population means workers filling jobs, families purchasing homes, and children filling schools. Population means a tax base, voter base, and volunteer pool. Population means friends and neighbors and a vibrant existence.

The Rural Opportunity Zones program is one way Kansas is turning the tide of out-migration. Young people in their 20s are predominantly the demographic moving out of rural America. The ROZ program extends a tempting offer – move to certain Kansas counties and start life fresh, without the monkey of student loan debt on your back and with enticing income tax offers. Start your life where your community appreciates you, where your presence is vital, where you can fill an important role.

Since the program’s launch in 2012, 1,450 people have applied to move to ROZ counties. Many of these people have spouses and families. Maybe 1,450 seems like a huge number to you; maybe it seems small. But, in a town like our headquarters of Grainfield, population 277, even one new family makes a difference.

If one new family moved to every small town in the country, how would that change the landscape of rural America? It’s an exciting thought. Maybe one town would get a doctor, or another would find the perfect volunteer to run the school carnival, or to restore a beautiful Victorian home. Every person moving to rural America makes a difference. That’s why we’re so excited to support a program that has thousands of people interested in moving to rural Kansas.

Currently, we’re proud to call 6 of the 73 counties participating in the Kansas ROZ program LSTA members. Hopefully, this number will continue to grow! Our 2014 ROZ Website Scholarship is accepting applications until May 1, 2014. Learn more here.

Sustainability, Rural America, And Youth

Creighton

On the campus of Creighton University. Creighton University. Source: Creative Commons / Troy Johnson

In November, I was invited to Creighton University to speak in front of a group of students participating in an innovative course that directly relates to the work I am so passionate about – creating a new future for rural America through Love Small Town America.

It was an honor to be invited to speak to Barbara Dilly’s class: Sustainability and Rural America. I met an amazing class of bright, well-educated students. It is promising and exciting to know we as a society are teaching our youth to be leaders and to make a difference in our rural communities.

This class talks about why it is important to educate leaders to remain in small towns.  I could tell they were soaking in everything Barbara Dilly was teaching them – and they should be! She is a wealth of knowledge in this area.

I was particularly impressed with some of the projects they were working on. One of which was the task to find any small town in America, learn about the community and find something to do if you lived there for a year.

The class is currently reading “Hollowing Out the Middle: America’s Rural Brain Drain” by Patrick J. Carr and Maria J. Kefalas and comes highly recommended. It now sits on my nightstand waiting to be read.

More info on Barbara: http://www.creighton.edu/fileadmin/user/CCAS/departments/SocAnt/docs/Vitaes/CV_Barbara_Dilly_Updated_August_2012.pdf

Nicole Godek, CEO of Love Small Town America, presented at Creighton during November 2012.

Land of Opportunity – The Rural Opportunities Conference in Review

Conference booth

LSTA joined Kansans from across the state at the Rural Opportunities Conference in November.

This is the 2nd year I’ve attended the ROC and I enjoyed it this year as much as the first year. Governor Brownback has an impressive way of setting the tone for the entire conference. He is a true believer in rural Kansas and has demonstrated his commitment to rural America by introducing the Rural Opportunity Zones, of which LSTA is excited to be a part. His letter to conference participants resonates with my ideals for sustaining rural Kansas, and America.

“There’s no doubt that rural Kansas has faced some serious challenges in recent years, from declining populations to communities facing the loss of businesses and young talent. However, I am confident that the fortunes of rural Kansas are changing in a positive way. The state has become the No. 1 location in the nation for wind farms under construction, which has helped bring jobs and investment to rural Kansas. The state could see another oil and gas boom, much of it taking place in rural areas. Rural Opportunity Zones are attracting young, talented professionals from all over the country to our small communities. Major tax relief enacted earlier this year will spur small business growth and put more money back into the hands of Kansans.”

Kansas is doing some amazing things for our rural communities and I believe we have a very bright future. We can all make a difference in our small towns, even if it’s one tiny step at a time. As our slogan goes:

Take Part. Make a Difference.

Nicole Godek, CEO of Love Small Town America, attended the Rural Opportunities Conference Nov. 7-8, 2012 in Junction City, Kansas.

Featured Business: Harvest Market

Owner Dan Godek knows the community of Gove County comes together at Harvest Market.

Love Small Town America is the online home for some of small town America’s best businesses. We’re giving them a chance to share with the world just what makes them so special. Please welcome our very first featured business to the Love Small Town America blog: Harvest Market

Where can you find delicious BBQ meats, household essentials, and a dead rat all in one, convenient location? Residents of Grainfield, Kansas know that Harvest Market is the place to find all of these things – and more!

At Harvest Market, household essentials line the shelves alongside quirky surprises.

Grocery stores are often the heart of small towns, where citizens gather to share the latest news and pick up a loaf of bread. Grainfield finds this in Harvest Market – and a little extra.

Harvest Market has been in operation in Grainfield in some form or another since the late 1920s. Current owners Dan and Nicole Godek have updated the market with energy-efficient equipment and expanded product lines, keeping Harvest Market a viable part of the small town economy while respecting its historic tradition of serving the people of Gove County, KS.

The family-owned store has imbued Harvest Market with a lively spirit that draws in customers from all over the area. Slogans like, “Eggs, Tomatoes, Toilet Paper… Everything You Need to Decorate Your Favorite Neighbor’s House,” and “We Get Up in Your Grill,” are proof that grocery shopping doesn’t have to be a chore.

Shopping trips become lively excursions at Harvest Market with a little help from the local "wildlife".

Although Harvest Market does have eggs, tomatoes, and toilet paper (and produce, dairy, party trays, beauty products, beer, tobacco, and more), it’s their mouthwatering array of Harvest Market Brand BBQ meats that promises to make summertime special in Kansas. The sight of pulled pork, beef brisket, and BBQ beef fresh from the heartland have wrecked more than one carefully planned dinner menu, but we have a feeling no one is complaining.

Harvest Market brand BBQ draws customers from all around.

Owner Dan Godek draws inspiration from his own children (or maybe from his childlike zest for life!) and makes a shopping excursion to Harvest Market fun for all ages. A big gnome, little gnome, dead hand, and toy rat wander mysteriously about the store every day just waiting to be found. If searching for a toy rat doesn’t sound like your kind of fun, a carnival mirror is an oracle of truth that could provide the answer to whether you should place that candy bar or that bunch of bananas in your shopping cart.

Looking for a great deal?

Coupons rotate frequently at Harvest Market, so check back soon.

Harvest Market rotates coupons on their Love Small Town America site, so check back regularly for updated promotions. Through May 31, 2012, they are offering a bargain on sunflower seeds – perfect for enjoying outside as the weather warms up.

BIGS Sunflower Seeds are on special at Harvest Market this May.

What Does Harvest Market Love About Small Towns?

They’re quiet, peaceful, affordable, friendly, safe, vibrant, caring, and conservative.

What Does Harvest Market Like Best About Love Small Town America?

Harvest Market calls Love Small Town America their home on the web. But it’s more than just good business sense – it’s about good.

“The fact that Love Small Town America is doing good. It’s helping small towns. It’s helping small town businesses. It’s going to give back to its communities through scholarship and grant programs.”

Harvest Market will be giving back to the community themselves, as a sponsor of the 4th annual Cruise, Shoes, and BBQs fundraiser this Memorial Weekend. With food, beer, and fun, it’s a natural fit for Harvest Market.

Harvest Market's friendly grocery aisle gnome.

Do you shop at Harvest Market? Have you ever found the toy rat or tried Harvest Market BBQ? Let us know in the comments! 

ROZ Scholarship Applications Announced

You know how passionate we are about small town survival – and about the Rural Opportunity Zones program as a great way to recruit new residents to participating Kansas counties. That’s why we are so excited that the ROZ Scholarship Application is now open. We’ve been working with the Kansas Department of Commerce for some time now, and they agree that Love Small Town America gives small counties and towns the right kind of web presence. They have decided to offer scholarships to Kansas ROZ counties or towns within those counties to cover the cost of a 1-year membership on Love Small Town America. Can you believe that? Lucky ROZ applicants could receive a FREE webpage on LSTA as part of our network for a whole year. That is phenomenal!

This kind of support from state government is what makes us so proud to be from Kansas. We hope all the ROZ counties will feel the same and want to take advantage of the chance to join our network.

In the meantime, we put together a page on our site to help explain what the scholarship covers (and what it doesn’t), why you shouldn’t wait to turn in your application, and what the next steps are.

As always, we’re available to help, so don’t hesitate to reach out to us.

We’re so excited to realize that sometime this summer (fingers crossed) we’ll be joining a BUNCH of new communities to our growing family on the web. This means lots more exciting developments ahead, so watch our facebook page and twitter feed for the latest breaking news.

Links:

ROZ Webpage Scholarships

Joining Love Small Town America

Rural Opportunity Zones (KS Department of Commerce)

 

How Can Rural be Sustainable?

At Love Small Town America we are not afraid to say that we love small towns (it’s right there in our name!). We love all small towns. But the truth of the matter is that many of these small towns are in rural areas. In Kansas, for example, half of the population lives in 5 counties. The other half of the population lives in the remaining 100 counties; most of those are in cities or towns with fewer than 10,000 people. So, we keep our ears cocked to hear news that relates to rural life. A recent government report caught our attention. Last week we saw the following:

New Partnership for Sustainable Communities Report: Supporting Sustainable Rural Communities

The HUD-DOT-EPA Partnership for Sustainable Communities and the USDA have released Supporting Sustainable Rural Communities, a report that discusses how the four agencies are collaborating to support rural communities. This publication highlights how small towns and rural places across the country are using federal resources to strengthen their economies, provide better quality of life to residents, and build on local assets such as traditional main streets, agricultural lands, and natural resources.  The report includes sections on how HUD, DOT, EPA, and USDA programs support environmentally and economically sustainable growth in rural places; performance measures rural communities can use to target their investments; and 12 case studies of rural communities using federal resources to achieve their development and economic goals. It also outlines steps the Partnership for Sustainable Communities is pursuing to support small towns and rural places.  Read the report here.  For more information on the Partnership for Sustainable Communities, please visit: http://www.sustainablecommunities.gov.

 

The Partnership for Sustainability developed six livability principles:

  • Provide more transportation choices.
  • Promote equitable, affordable housing.
  • Enhance economic competitiveness.
  • Support existing communities.
  • Coordinate and leverage federal policies and investment.
  • Value communities and neighborhoods.
We can definitely appreciate the value behind these six principles: some of them guide our business even now. Are there other important issues this partnership overlooked? Love Small Town America works to address economic competitiveness in a big way, and we also think we promote affordable housing through our real-estate ads, support existing communities in a big way, and value communities and neighborhoods. There may be more we can do in the future to branch out into some of these other areas, perhaps enabling rural towns to better advocate for federal policies that are beneficial to small towns.

We’re curious to stay tuned and find out how this develops in the future. What do you think? How can rural be sustainable? And what can we do to help?

Love Small Town America would like you to be our friend on facebook. Click here to see our page and click ‘like’ to join the conversation. We have big plans to offer our facebook friends exclusive giveaways, promotions, and contests. Plus, it’s just plain fun. Who can say no to that?! www.facebook.com/lovesmalltownamerica

Growing from Grainfield

 

A sampling of images from the Grainfield photo gallery on Love Small Town America

Love Small Town America is based in Grainfield, Kansas. It’s where CEO Nicole Godek grew up, and where she returned to find her roots. We thought it was only fitting that as we launch this blog as part of our expansion to bring Love Small Town America to towns across Kansas, that we pay homage to where it all started.

Grainfield is a lot like many other Midwestern towns, built on a solid base of agricultural interests. With a population of 289, it certainly fits the bill of a “small town”. Grainfield’s inhabitants are hard-working, friendly people who are more than residents; they’re a community. As Love Small Town America’s home base, it is only natural that Grainfield be one of the first communities to come online.

When Nicole returned to Grainfield after living in bigger cities, she knew she would find the small town advantages she sought. What she didn’t realize was how difficult it would be to find everything else. Her difficulty finding local resources she sought to remodel her new home online prompted Nicole to realize that if she couldn’t find small town resources on the web while she was living in the heart of a small town, there were probably 1.) a lot of other people out there who couldn’t find them either 2.) a lot of small businesses and small towns who weren’t connecting with customers, residents, etc. Nicole helped Grainfield make those connections and now Grainfield has a great online presence full of information about community events, local schools, businesses, and even job opportunities.

Seeing the community embrace Love Small Town America and helping our local business owners to find a way to have an affordable, professional web presence helped us to know, right from the beginning, that what we were doing would work; that communities need what we offer, that they support our mission to put small towns and businesses back on the map, and most importantly, that we are making a difference.

One of the Grainfield businesses that we helped create a custom website for is D&D Ranching. Until Love Small Town America came along, D&D Ranching didn’t even have a website. Now, they proudly share with the world their decades of experience in the cattle industry. Their business webpage under the Grainfield umbrella makes it easy for anyone looking for the services they offer to find them. (Anne adds: I just tried googling them – and sure enough, I wound up at the Love Small Town America page!)

D&D Ranching is a family owned, small feed yard offering the latest in technology, individual pens and rations, and bunk feeding.”

We’re proud of all the Grainfield businesses we’ve brought online, some joining Love Small Town America and linking to external webpages, and others coming online for the very first time. This town has supported us and given us a great place to call home. Some day, we think we’ll be calling Grainfield by another name: national headquarters of Love Small Town America. 

 

Welcome to the Love Small Town America Blog!

Love Small Town America has been helping people form coast to coast find a map to the "good life".

Hello everyone!

You might be an old friend of Love Small Town America or this might be the first time you’ve heard those words.

To all our old friends – thank you for stopping by, and we hope you’ll say hello in the comments! We’ve got big plans to keep this blog updated with fun, fresh content we think you’ll like. If you’re here, we know you love small towns – or are willing to be enticed! –so we’ve got all sorts of projects in the works, from travel segments to recipes to photo contests that we hope are going to make this a fun destination that you’ll check every day. So, settle in, say “hello”, and let us know what you’d like to see! If you’ve got favorite blogs about small town life, rural issues, or anything, let us know that, too! We’re new to this blogging thing and would love to jump in and make some friends.

To all our new visitors, allow me to introduce Love Small Town America. Love Small Town America isn’t really just a business or a website, although we take what we do pretty seriously – it’s more than that.

Love Small Town America is the only website offering a comprehensive listing of small towns and their assets from community organizations to businesses to real-estate

By joining Love Small Town America, people are getting a professional website at an affordable cost and joining a network that we are growing from the ground up of people who live in small towns, shop in small towns, run businesses in small towns – or would like to move to a small town.

In the coming days, weeks, and months we’ll share lots more with you about what Love Small Town America is, why we love small towns so much, and all sorts of goodies that we think you’ll like – from events to tips on growing your small town business.

For now, we’d just like to say, “howdy” and encourage you to join the conversation. We can’t wait to see where this road takes us and we sure hope you’ll ride along.

Share a comment with us! We can’t wait to meet you!