Rethinking Rural Development: What is your Small Town’s Promise?

by Joanne Steele on March 1, 2013


I had planned to share my research on mobile technology today, but that can wait til next week!

winter Dunsmuir, CA, USAYesterday on my usual walk through my little town, I stopped by one of my favorite businesses to say hello and have a short chat with owner, Nathan Johnston.

As usual, our conversation was about Dunsmuir, our town.

Nathan is one of a number of young professionals who have come to live and work in Dunsmuir. The exciting thing is that these entrepreneurs are coming and they are staying!

“With all the cute small and mid-sized towns in the western US, why Dunsmuir, California ?” I wondered.

Nathan’s answer was, “It’s the Promise.”

“Dunsmuir,” he noted, “has an authenticity to it, in part owing to some of the roughness around the edges. There’s a spirit of discovery and invention here, something that I think is harder to find in established tourism-focused towns that have figured out what their unique offering is and know exactly how to attract their ideal visitor or resident.”

This morning, I received an email from him expanding on this idea of “Promise.”

“Perhaps accidentally, or luckily and certainly thankfully,” he wrote, “I see new businesses and business owners who are invested in the idea of building a more livable town, not simply a town more attractive to tourists. And interestingly, I’m talking to more and more tourists who are stopping by because our town feels livable, inviting and interesting.”

How does a rural small town achieve that Promise – Livable, Inviting and Interesting?

Nathan sent a link to a video that every small local business owner and certainly every rural development and business development organization should watch and consider. It is a talk by Tony Hseih about his business, Zappos, and his company’s new commitment to revitalizing the Las Vegas downtown city center.

You’ll notice that what Hseih is trying to capture for Las Vegas is a spirit we already have in our small towns. I was struck by Hseih’s emphasis on people, vision and energy as the vital components of redevelopment, not renovating buildings.

Small towns run on people and vision and energy, and Hseih’s ideas about how to effectively deploy them applies to us, we small town visionaries. We’re allowing ourselves to be confounded by lack of money to work on buildings when that might be the least important thing!

If you’re a small town business, think about how you already use some of Zappos revolutionary ideas about focusing on and serving your customer. Think about how Zappos took those ideas to the next level and built a billion dollar business. What can you learn from Zappos to take your own business to the next level?

After you have watched the video – I guarantee it’s worth the 40 minutes – please leave your thoughts in the comments.

Photo of a snowy Dunsmuir day by Dunsmuir resident and photographer extraordinaire, Richard Dupertuis.




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