Future of Rural Communities Essay
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Will today’s small rural towns be the ghost towns of tomorrow? Will what’s now a moderately busy main street be overtaken by grasses and tumbleweeds? According to the CEDS “Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy”, which was compiled in 2003 by the South Central Economic Development District, Franklin County ranks last in housing unit counts, wage and salary income, employer establishments. County population has declined over 34% from 5,449 in 1960 to 3,574 in 2000.
Is the future of Franklin, Nebraska a steady decline with an end as a ghost town in the future? Franklin has a chance to reverse this trend with lots of community involvement, and by taking immediate action.
There are many obstacles in the way of meeting the goal of making our small communities more livable and desirable. In the case of Franklin, there is a core group that has been in charge for many years and that is not easily convinced of the need to change. “Why change what has worked for many years? is only one of the questions that are heard many times.
People don’t understand that in order to attract new families to move into our community, there has to be something to draw their attention to the area. Resistance to change is one of the greatest obstacles people that try to introduce change to small towns face (Gorman). Here in Franklin, ideas are often turned down, only because they may have come from an “outsider”. In this small town, everyone that has not been born in the community or in the next few towns up or down the river valley is an outsider.
Unfortunately a distrust of strangers and their motives can be a great hindrance when making an effort to encourage growth. Massive change in a community often requires a great financial effort, and funds that are not readily available to communities. Often the city council votes against a project because of lack of money in the community. They are unaware that there may be grant money available for community improvement projects, or that someone in the community may feel strongly enough about a project to finance it with a donation.
Problems must be dealt with honestly in order to find solutions that work. To turn ideas into concrete plans, a professional economic planner may be needed. There may be people within the community that are already equipped to do the necessary research and work with the many State-run and private organizations that are available to assist with rural development. Another option is to get together with other towns that may face the same problems, or have already taken forward steps to becoming a thriving community.
Another secret to success lies in supporting existing businesses and encouraging entrepreneurs to follow their dreams (Brhel 1). A local bank that is open to working with new and existing businesses can be a great asset in keeping businesses in town and gaining new business ventures. Filling empty storefronts on main-street and keeping existing businesses open is a vital part of keeping downtown alive. Making a plan for business succession is another priority.
There needs to be a plan for what happens when owners of existing businesses retire, in order to keep these businesses from permanently closing. Isolated counties may not be able to attract large businesses, due to a lack of skilled workers. It may be wise for small towns in these counties to attract families with an array of recreational opportunities. (Duggan, 12) Many workers are not tied to their office anymore; telecommuting and the internet give them the choice to live where they want to live.
Making a community an interesting place with many recreational opportunities and marketing these opportunities can interest new families. The promise of affordable living with a great quality of life could act as a magnet to newcomers. There are many requirements that have to be met in order to turn a small rural town around. It takes people with a vision to see a potential in such a town. The community needs to pull together and find a group of volunteers that are also concerned with the community’s progression (Brhel, 2).
It helps to find volunteers that are involved only in a limited amount of activities, since “professional volunteers” are often stretched so thin that they do not have the necessary time and energy that needs to be invested in community activism. A strong leader is needed to encourage volunteers but who is also able to deal with city and state officials. Franklin has found such a strong leader in Jim Gorman, who only moved to town about three years ago, after marrying Randee Emerson, a longtime Franklin resident.
After living here in the community for a while he noticed that there are many individuals within our community that are quite willing to work hard for the community. He also noticed that there are many civic and other organizations in town that are basically idle or inactive. He founded the County Stimulation Initiative for Franklin County (CSI Franklin), an organization that is concerned with stimulating the growth, and improving the health and well being of our community on an economic and quality of life basis (Gorman).
Jim Gorman is active in a number of organizations that have the economic growth of rural towns at heart. His activism in this town is strengthened by his being associated with the South Central Nebraska Economic Development District, a consortium of twelve rural Nebraska counties who see improving rural economies as a regional rather than purely local issue(SCEDD). CSI Franklin is what Gorman calls his group. They have already taken action in modernizing some signs at the local museum, and are now working on new museum exhibits and on the preservation of current artifacts.
The Franklin Museum now also offers broadband internet access that was made possible with the help from Glenwood Communications. A new community website will help market the city of Franklin, and hopefully instill an interest in people to relocate to this area. Gorman states he hopes that by marketing our fantastic hunting opportunities, and our wonderful quality of life, marketing the modern workplace with broadband internet access for telecommuters and new businesses, people will be attracted to this area, and we will see an influx in people moving to this area.
Possible future projects include restoration and renovation of the Dupre Music Hall, a historic building in the middle of the Franklin City Park and the Lincoln Hotel, a three story structure that was built in 1918 and is in dire need of repair. Both buildings are not usable at this time, but would make wonderful community centers. Making either one of them useable would be a great enrichment to this town. It would also instill a sense of pride in the people of this town, which might make them more likely to volunteer for community improvement projects.
With a handful of dedicated volunteers, a good leader, and a solid plan, Franklin has a good chance of not only survival, but may even have the opportunity to flourish. There are many resources available to us and we need to make good use of them. Organizations like CSI, SCEDD, the University of Nebraska Rural Initiative are there to assist with these activities, and people like Jim Gorman are essential in reaching our goals.