What Rural People Say They Need: The Survey of Rural Challenges

life is goodWe all know what rural towns need, right? They need jobs, and to recruit some manufacturing and they have a huge poverty problem. Right?

Well, no. At least that’s not what rural people told us.

Becky McCray, my partner at, ran a survey of subscribers and visitors on Over 200 people who identified themselves as rural shared what challenges they wanted help with for their small towns and their rural businesses.

The challenges they picked were not the usual suspects, contrary to what big city media has been prone to think.

When describing their community, people selected a set of inter-related challenges, of bringing life and activity to their towns, so their businesses will prosper and young people will choose to stay and other people will want to visit. That’s a much more nuanced view of community development than we usually give rural people credit for understanding.

Most of the people surveyed also owned businesses. Adapting to being open later hours was their most-selected challenge. Marketing was the second most-commonly-chosen challenge. And in the open-ended answers, marketing got mentioned over and over. Clearly, getting the word out about your business is still a big issue, even in small towns.

There were a few surprises. Not many people mentioned jobs or poverty, which are the stereotype of rural challenges. Very few people mentioned a business gap in their community. We hear a lot about filling gaps, so that surprised me. More business people cited difficulty finding usable buildings in their town than difficulty finding a business loan, which also runs contrary to the usual stories.

I was struck by how often the lack of cooperation came up. We just don’t work together very well, from town leaders to local businesses. That’s something we can all work on.

Business issues seemed to fall into the pattern of the The 7 Most Common Weaknesses of Local Shops, and that’s something else we can work on.

And of course we can work on bringing more life and activity to town.