Why Does Small Town America Matter?

The flyover States. The Midwest, the Great Plains, the Rocky Mountains. We have these large portions of land, water, grain, cattle, manufacturing plants, real home cooking, original buildings that display their character, and a truly visual representation of community.

The drawback for much of these communities is that they have smaller populations, limited resources, and an inability to capture large financial commitments they need to expound on their qualities, and make their respective destinations a draw for outsiders.

And then of course, that limitation goes to an on-going problem that America faces: competition for tourism dollars.

Many small towns across America have jumped onto the concepts taught at the former National Main Street Center were encapsulated by the ability to re-vitalize their downtown cores to eventually attract tourism dollars; the best money any municipality in this country can hope for.

Tourism dollars bring larger tax percentages (think those 20 percent or higher hotel taxes), and spend-happy customers at various retail shops that otherwise wouldn’t see the types of draws that would support their rent and utility payments.

Tourism is great, and getting something in place that is sustainable is certainly a goal worthy to have; but understanding that not every town can expect a major tourism draw is not merely a belief, but a principle that any small town looking to reclaim its luster should abide by.

The real truth is that it takes years of building (and a lot of rebuilding!) in all other directions before those first tourists will ever show up.  Merely propping up a few businesses in your downtown core, slapping an arts festival together and marketing it as the weekend destination is not going to work.

At the same time, people like Richard Florida, author of Cities and the Creative Class, have suggested that creative people, those who add vibrancy and theme to your small towns eventually leave for larger cities; simply because their purpose is better supported.

It’s a reasonable argument, in that we all recognize that larger cities tend to have more robust options and resources to not only support, but even more so, cultivate, the talents of many.  Industry, technology, space, and certainly an audience are all key factors to a creative reaching and achieving their potential; and making their own path.

Small towns by and large have not offered this in some time, and there are exceptions, by this is the going theme among many.

Some towns embrace the change, and want to support.  Others do not.  And still some fight it tooth and nail, not wanting anything “ruining….” Well, who knows what!

But right now, in 2019, small towns do have the ability to add some balance to the value they provide compared to their bigger, devouring brothers.

Much has been said about the internet and it’s democratization of information.  But the true power in internet services is the true exploration of fast telecommunications in the far-flung corners of agri-land.

But even more so than that, proliferating them in such a way that budding entrepreneurs, who are young, bright, and are inevitably part of the community’s growth, will be able to land the tools in small towns, that allow them to branch out the larger world.

One example of what I’m talking about is Ernest Greene Jr, also known as the musical artist Washed Out.  Greene was born in small town Georgia, and after leaving home for an education at a major D-1 school, followed by graduate school, he moved back in with his parents after not being able to find work in his profession. 

That could be the end to a very sad story about wasted youth, but instead, while Greene was searching for work, he start to create synth-pop and chillwave music that he eventually posted on the internet to a profile he named Washed Out.  He has said numerous times that the music was born out of a deep desire to remain happy in the state of life he was in; a lack of a job market during the 2009 recession that kept him unemployed, and living at home.

On the other end of the music, was an audience that discovered him and brought him to his first show, a sold-out showcase.  This led to a music career that is now roughly ten years old, with songs of his reaching the charts, as well as being encompassed into television royalties (he wrote the song used by Portlandia as their theme).

Greene didn’t need to be in New York City to capture his audience, and in fact has stayed in small towns in Georgia for their inspiration on the music he makes.

Greene proves Mr. Florida wrong, and he also proves that small towns have appeal that is routinely untapped.

It’s not necessary for people who want to preserve their small towns, or want to turn them into tourist hot spots to curate the entire town.  In fact, it’s quite possible that doing so will hurt the town’s potential.  But those that want to make their small towns achieve some growth, and have something to offer future generations need to consider supportive infrastructure foremost; buildings, utilities, and use of space.

These three elements are the foundation.  Everything else after is window dressing – and it’s advisable to leave that portion to the creatives you’re wanting to keep around.

I’ll write about this topic more at a later date.  Until then, consider your town, what the intention is, and whether or not that truly lines up with what your community wants to convey.  If there is a disagreement, those things need to be settled before any plan of direction is written or carried out.

It is one of the cruelest jokes we play on ourselves in the United States.

The flyover States. The Midwest, the Great Plains, the Rocky Mountains. We have these large portions of land, water, grain, cattle, manufacturing plants, real home cooking, original buildings,

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