Rural Development 101 – Be a Great Place to Live, Work, Play.

by Joanne Steele on November 8, 2010

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This blog is all about developing a successful rural tourism industry.

Ortonville, Minnesota

Ortonville, Minnesota, on the banks of Big Stone Lake

But the primary reason for promoting rural tourism is NOT to have a bunch of people flock to town on Thursday afternoon and leave on Sunday afternoon. It’s about having a bustling town full of families seven days a week.

Rural tourism is a way to get to that, and we must not forget this objective. People come as visitors, they love what they see and figure out a way to get back to live.

In preparation for my Dunsmuir Revitalization Team meeting this week, I reviewed the information provided to us by Joe McArdle of Phoenixville, Pennsylvania. Check out my first post on Joe’s work in Phoenixville:  Can The Arts Save Your Small Town?

While reviewing Joe’s YouTube videos, I realized that I had missed his most important point – why Phoenixville turned to the arts as a rural development tool.

Live, Work and Play in the same zip code!

Small towns like Ortonville, Minnesota and Hood River, Oregon don’t have the option of being a bedroom community to a large metropolitan area. They’re located in the middle of the countryside. That’s their biggest rural development problem.

Phoenixville, Pennsylvania does, and that’s it’s biggest rural development problem. What town wants to empty out every morning when people commute to a nearby city.

All small towns want to get back to being the place where citizens get up in the morning, go to work in town and afterward and go fishing, hunting or strolling downtown in the evening.

Watching Joe McArdle’s videos I was encouraged by how he looks at the serious problems small towns face. He talks about rural development as involving a “willingness to evolve into whatever major employers are current for the time.”

For many small towns this means getting over the idea that a major employer is going to come in and save it.  It means fostering entrepreneurship. It means developing your local broadband network so that people can telecommute.

Rural development and Local First isn’t about sacrificing bargain prices to shop locally. It’s about living, working and playing in the same zip code because it’s convenient.

It’s about spending more time with our families, friends and neighbors and less time in our cars.

Rural tourism is the marketing piece for your town. Be like Hood River (Rural Tourism: Hood River, Oregon’s Powerful Economic Development Marketing Tool) and use this marketing tool effectively. Stop worrying about becoming a “tourism town.” Be the place that people love to come to visit, because those are the people who will want to also come someday to live.

Thanks to Vicki Oakes of the Ortonville, Minnesota Economic Development Authority for bringing her small town to my attention!

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