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.

Gift Ideas that Go a Little Further

At this time of year, our thoughts are often on giving gifts, whether small or large. With every dollar counting more than ever, how can you stretch yours to go as far as possible while still taking care of the ones you love? Buy local. Buy small. Buy American. 

Tim Mitchell in Northwest Earth Institute’s Choices for Sustainable Living states, ‘A dollar spent at a locally owned store is usually spent 6 to 15 times before it leaves the community. From $1, you create $5 to $14 in value within that community. Conversely‘Spend $1 at a national chain store, and 80% leaves town immediately.’


Even if you’re only spending a single dollar – maybe to buy a bar of chocolate for a friend – if you buy it at your local grocery store, you are generating an economic ripple that can make that single dollar bill worth up to $15 dollars! Talk about some happy holidays!

This is exactly the kind of math that Love Small Town America wants to help everyone calculate. So, we rounded up a few of our businesses to share some creative gift ideas on our facebook and twitter pages that would not only make someone on your list smile – but that would make waves in your community’s economy. Here are all our ideas in one convenient location (Hint: feel free to print!)

Gift Idea #1: Gift certificates to Main Street Dugout in Grainfield
Don’t live in Grainfield? Buy a gift certificate to your local diner or pub. A $40 dinner could make up to $600 worth of difference in your community – and, your support can make a real difference to the owners.

Gift Idea #2: Custom vinyl decal from B’s Ultimate Finish in Grainfield
Many local print shops or automotive boutiques now offer custom vinyl decals. Decorate a car window or add some flair to a kid’s room, classroom, or even the ‘man-cave’.

Gift Idea #3: Brisket and pulled pork from Harvest Market 
Rural grocery stores need your support. Find a speciality item to gift or stick with high-quality basics that are always welcome (think European baking chocolate, bottled olives, and other delicacies). If you don’t have a grocery store nearby, try a restaurant or coffee shop for seasonal food gifts.


Gift Idea #4: Auto parts or car washing supplies from Jack’s
Even if cars aren’t *your* thing, there is a good chance you know someone who loves them or would appreciate a practical gift like an oil change or car wash – on you.

Gift Idea #5: A gift with real power: a gift certificate to Old 40 Depot to put a dent in paying for a new skid loader

We think these gifts would be great for just about anyone – especially those hard-to-shop-for men on our lists! – and will be long remembered, and appreciated. Whether you gather inspiration from this list or have something else in mind, remember that when your dollar stays in town, it grows.

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?!

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:


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?!