Dr. Val Farmer
Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

What's New In Rural Development

June 19, 1995

Hey, want to hear the latest? I know I do. I try to keep up by talking with people who can observe trends and new ideas. I talked about trends with Milan Wall of the Heartland Center for Leadership Development in Lincoln, Nebraska. This is what he has observed that offers hope for rural communities.

1. Multi-community development efforts in rural areas continue to get foundation and government finding. When communities band together and submit joint, coordinated proposals, they catch the attention of people with purse strings who want to see the greatest bang for their buck.

2. More community foundations are being created. People who want to help their local communities by giving part of their estate find these local community development foundations very attractive. Today much of this generosity goes outside local communities to worthy causes - churches, colleges, health research, etc. - to which these people have formed some allegiance.

Rural people have strong local community bonds. If there is a way established for them to benefit their community, they will do it. With a well-run, dynamic community foundation, local wealth can be retained in the community. Older people control the wealth. Rural communities are full of older people.

3. Fiber optics and the Internet give vital access to education and business resources. Concerns about long distance charges, connection quality and inclusion of rural communities are important issues for future economic growth. Some communities and states are quite innovative in providing public access to telecommunication technology.

"Lone eagles" - entrepreneurial types who generate a living through their telecommunication connections - continue to multiply. People increasingly can and will choose to live in rural environments for the quality of life. Access to state-of-the-art telecommunications put rural communities on the information highway and the new economy that is emerging because of it.

4. As I noted in a previous column, there is a significant out-migration from California and the larger cities in the West to rural areas. People are concerned about the disintegrating quality of life and services, cost of living, safety and property taxes. A 1992 nationwide Roper poll found, if given a choice, a third of the city dwellers they questioned would prefer living in a small town or in the country.

The people who are willing to move are often middle aged couples whose highly mobile children are living elsewhere. They have no real allegiance to their urban community. They cash in on their home equity and move their businesses to smaller communities. A positive local attitude and the quality of local services aids in welcoming, recruiting and integrating these families into community life.

Health care access is a concern that rural communities need to address if they are to be viewed as an alternative to other relocation choices.

5. There is increasing awareness that the creation of minimum wage jobs does not add that much to a local economy. Communities are now focusing economic diversification efforts on the development of quality jobs that raise the per capita income in the community and are sufficient to sustain families.

6. Revolving loans and micro-loan funds are being established to encourage local entrepreneurship and expansion of already successful local businesses. Local bankers and investors encourage, lead and vitalize local economies by recognizing and supporting creative people with vision and sound ideas.

7. Communities are making conscious efforts to expand their pool of volunteers and leaders and offer formal leadership development. Wall and his colleague Vicki Luther have written a booklet, "Building Local Leadership:

How to Start a Program in Your Town or County." They also have a Kellogg Foundation grant to collect rural development materials and provide an on-line ListServ and Homepage on the Internet. I sent them all my past columns on rural development.

For further information on their resources, write to Milan Wall, Heartland Center for Leadership Development, 941 "0" St., Suite 920, Lincoln, NE 68508.