Be The Best Small Town in America in 10 Easy Steps

by Joanne Steele on March 8, 2010


I discovered Budget Travel Magazine’s America’s Coolest Small Town Contest today and had

New London, New Hampshire

New London, NH. A Budget Travel finalist

great fun reading about the 21 finalists. Go to their site and cast your own vote.

I doubt if this designation will have major impact on the economic or tourism futures of any of these listed small towns, but that’s not the point.

Being chosen for this honor means that the residents of these places have been working hard to make their towns special. Not for visitors or magazines or contests, but for themselves.

Small towns are not Disneylands, created for the pleasure of visitors. They are home to several hundred to several thousand people who love where they live.

How can your town become its own best town in America?

1. Set your own rules.

To win the Budget Travel Magazine’s designation, you have to be “cool.” Maybe your town is kitchy, or quaint or homey or friendly or whatever. Winning your own contest is living up to your own best image.

2. Realize that playing this game is important right now.

Small towns are having a rough time. The news is full of stories about small towns on the verge of “not making it” because they don’t have broadband or good health care, or enough business, or an aging population.


3. Look for what is already good and working in your town.

I wrote a post several months about Kurt Wright and his idea that we make more progress by looking for what’s working than by focusing on what isn’t.

Check out the Kansas Sampler Foundation. Marci Penner and the folks in rural Kansas have their own rewards system for small towns called the Eight Wonders of Kansas.

4. Be relentlessly positive.

On my refrigerator is a quote by Charles Swindoll called “Attitude.” I have to look at that every time I get cream for my coffee… and I drink a lot of coffee. It shapes my feelings about life.

5. Be infectious about your feelings for your town.

Get your Chamber of Commerce and service clubs involved in your being the best campaign. It might only be the best kept sidewalks or the best flower gardens or the cleanest windows downtown, but it can turn around peoples’ attitudes!

In my little town, one woman noticed that we grow the best dogwoods anywhere! All by herself she persuaded 50 more people to plant dogwoods, and involved the Chamber of Commerce in creating a whole new Dunsmuir event for May – Dogwood Days!

6. Gossip about the good.

I love supermarket talk. I know I’ll spend shopping time leaning on my basket talking to friends and neighbors. The small town “Net” is speedier than the Internet. Grocery stores and the post office are the T-1 lines to everybody in town. Use them for good.

7. You probably already volunteer. Volunteer a little more.

If you’re a professional, check with your small town businesses and see if they could use a leg up. Who can afford professional business services these days, but to stay profitable, our small town business community needs all the help it can get.

8. Teach kids how to do what you’re doing.

Most small business owners are successful because of their entrepreneurial spirit. You know what it takes to stay profitable in a small town. Teach entrepreneurship at your local high school so kids have the option of staying in town and doing what you do .

9. Get involved in politics… local politics.

Don’t wait until something happens that you’re mad about to sit in on city council meetings and volunteer for town committees. Small town politics is the heart and soul of democracy. Be there!

10. Thank your lucky stars everyday that you live in the Best Small Town in America!

What is your small town famous for?

1 Alison Cassin March 16, 2010 at 3:05 pm

This is a great article. My hometown was voted one of Budget Travel’s Coolest Small Towns in 2009. They have a couple of annual festivals that I think are similar to Dunsmuir’s Dogwood Days. The residents there are proud of their town, and they recognize and get involved in what is great about it. It really does make a difference!

2 Joanne Steele March 18, 2010 at 12:13 pm

Hello Alison, Please tell us more! What is your town and how did the designation impact you? More visitors? More pride?

3 Daryl Phillips March 8, 2010 at 4:04 pm

Another great post! Electing good public officials is incredibly important. If local candidates aren’t interested in making your community an attractive place to visit, they won’t care about making it an attractive place to live.

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