Running on Fumes

I get it. Everything is coming at you at once. Trying to prioritize becomes an exercise in futility. You’ve lost your grip on being in control.

Stop.  Breathe.

Realize that you don’t have to be in charge. In fact, being in charge and in control is a demon of the past, part of the old way of doing things. It used to be important that a small group of people made the decisions. They were responsible for knowing all the rules, knowing who the key players were, knowing how to make the best decisions for as many people as they could.

The world has changed. Our access to news, technology, and innovation is light years away from the way it used to be. The days of six white men in the backroom making all the decisions has passed. There is now a culture of creativity, of coming together to pool our resources and make small, beautiful accomplishments part of your every day.

How do you let go of being in control?

The next time someone walks into your office and says, “I have this idea.” You’ll respond with “great idea! When will you get started on that?”

The next time you’re in the middle of flux and can’t seem to get things moving, you’ll gather your crowd. Who is interested in this challenge? How you can crowdsource the solution? Move that control out of the way and invite your crowd to solve that bit of flux.

When someone asks you for help, share your connections – not all your time. Who and what do you know that will help them? Build connections, help them find their crowd and encourage them to take small steps.

Finally, move from talking to action.

Get rid of the meetings, get rid of the phone calls to tear apart yet again something already broken, get rid of the people that only want to tear you down. The committee of negativity was never your friend and was never going to help you.

Small steps, with your connected crowd, no one in charge, everyone participating in a small but meaningful way, and your life of being in control is over.

Raise Your Voice

Paula Jensen is a guest blogger, and I’m thrilled to share this article of hers. (All bolded letters are at my direction.) 

Raise Your Voice for Rural Communities

It seems to me the only voices being heard in this world are from big companies, big cities and big government. The news blasted on my car radio as I drove across the prairie a few weeks ago, “the nation’s Gross Domestic Product growth has risen to a booming 4.1 during the second quarter of 2018 and consumer confidence is high as we go into mid-term elections.”  I wanted to yell at the car radio, “What about the news that is affecting rural communities!”

That brief tantrum brought a question to mind for me. Where are the voices willing to explore and discuss issues facing rural communities?

There is an online news feed called The Daily Yonder that understands rural and puts our issues in perspective, but I’m guessing since it’s not one of the national news mediums, not many are looking at it.  Jim Goodman, a writer for the Daily Yonder recently wrote, “In February, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) predicted 2018 crop profits would hit a 12-year low. Dairy farmers’ prices have fallen 30% in two years, while pork producers have seen a price drop of roughly $20 per head. Overall farm incomes are down nearly 50% from 2013. Long before the trade war began, I and many other farmers feared we were in a farm crisis as bad as that of the 1980s. Now we know it will be even worse.”

The success or despair of agriculture will ultimately trickle down to us all in small South Dakota towns. Yet, how we as individuals and the collective community choose to raise our voices and prepare for those times of success or despair equates to whether our communities will thrive or die.

The small towns that are successful in South Dakota are focused on creating a new rural – a vision and strategy to thrive. These small towns and regions are exploring the strategic possibilities of community and economic development. Here are a few strategic ways communities of the new rural are choosing to thrive:

Initiating Community Conversations – Because of the culture and leadership structures in small towns, we often lack a voice to raise difficult and challenging questions on issues facing our communities. With little cost but plenty of leadership, thriving rural communities are hosting community gatherings to talk about the issues, surveying residents, commissioning housing studies, empowering citizens to take action, and elevating other issues of priority.

Educating the community – Local community and economic development organizations are providing easy-to-understand public education on issues that are at the forefront, such as housing, business, leadership, daycare, quality of life amenities and more. By presenting and sharing quality data, information, and even opinions this puts communities and their residents in a better position to understand and address complex issues in a local context.

Building local infrastructure – This strategy is not about sewer, water and streets even though we know that type of infrastructure is necessary. Thriving communities make a lasting commitment to developing an infrastructure of community engagement (citizen leadership) and economic development (leadership focused on business development, people attraction and quality of place). For example, a community that is committed to building local infrastructure may see value in employing a community and economic development specialist that will wake up each day ready to engage residents, build outside connections, leverage resources, and keep their finger on the pulse of the community and region.

Grow local voices – Thriving communities empower residents and local leadership to speak out for their community to elected officials, resource providers, funders, neighboring towns, national platforms and, most of all, each other. This strategy begins through community engagement, education, connections and regular communication. Growing local voices allows a thriving community to solve a wide range of issues that may be affecting them, such as broadband access or the ability to maintain healthcare.

Are you willing to raise your voice to explore and discuss issues facing rural communities? Creating a thriving rural community requires your voice, new strategies, and your commitment to creating change around the issues you are passionate about. I challenge you to find your voice and begin speaking up for rural. It starts in little ways, like sharing a new idea with a group at the coffee shop, saying thank you to a long-time community volunteer or sharing on social media #Iamrural. Go ahead, I give you permission to use your voice for the good of rural.

Having a passion for rural community leadership and development is what drives Paula Jensen’s personal and professional life. Paula resides in her hometown of Langford, South Dakota, population 318+. She serves as a grant writer and community coach with Dakota Resources based in Renner, South Dakota. Dakota Resources is a 501c3 Community Development Financial Institution with the purpose of stimulating financial and human investments in rural communities that are invested in themselves. Contact her at




Rebuttal to the New York Times

In 2016 we had a young man who was writing an article for the New York Times come to town. He was ready to tell the story of how our town lost a major manufacturer and it was awful for us. I disagreed and wrote this rebuttal.
I like Brendan Hoffman.  He first traveled to Webster City in 2011 when he was covering the presidential elections in 2011. I met the young man when I first started as Chamber Director in 2013.  He was back on a visit recently, following the Clinton team.  Brendan was just published again by the New York Times and I’m a bit ticked off at them for leading their readers to believe that Webster City is leading a terrible life. ( )  But then, they do have papers to sell. For some particular reason, there’s this idea that slanting a story towards bad news or sad news will sell more papers.

Here’s where I am going to disagree. People are pretty disgusted with always hearing the bad news. We can pick up those stories on Facebook, or in the rags while standing in line at the grocery store.  What if you actually just told the truth?  Why not share some facts, and then find the stories behind the facts?  Here, I’ll get you started.

Unemployment rates in Hamilton County (we are the county seat) are 3.8% as of November 2015.  That is the same as the state of Iowa.  New York’s is 5.7%.  We’ve also got jobs here.  Good paying jobs at that – visit Van Diest Supply and find multiple listings, with starting pay in the $17+ an hour range.  Vantec, Inc. is hiring.  So is Webster City Custom Meats.  The list goes on.  There is work here.

There is also opportunity here.  We have room for entrepreneurs as well.  We host events like EntreBash where we partner with groups like Wright Hamilton Entrepreneurial Network and find ways for people to start their own businesses.  Small Business Development Centers are part of the SBA and they assist, at no charge, and help entrepreneurs as well.  There are building owners that have put their buildings into the Incubator Project and are willing to ​rent their buildings at reduced rates to help people get started.

​Now let’s talk about what has happened in town since Electrolux left.   Remember, we’re a town of about 8,000 people.
New businesses in town:
Prime Life LLC
 bought an empty building and specializes in total hormone balancing, stress management, preventive medicine, and the management of chronic medical conditions.
Mind and Body Clinic utilizes both traditional and complimentary therapies, with a focus on psychiatric medicine and osteopathic manipulation.  They use space in the Prime Life facility.
Neighbors Heating and Cooling bought the Chalfant Plumbing building and business.
Victoria’s Bubble Tea was open for a year and rented space from Al the barber.  She is no longer in business.
Iglesia Del Dios Pentecostal bought an empty building that was once rented by Public Health.  They are a Hispanic church and active in the chamber as well.
Crispy Eggroll is renting an empty building and serves Asian, Vietnamese and Thai food.
VeroBlue Farms is capturing the opportunity to become the largest onshore, indoor facility of its kind in North America. Through its Iowa’s First Hub located in Webster City Iowa, VBF is expanding its production of the Barramundi fish species through a new urban farm with approximately 7.2 million pounds of production. They have already purchased one of the old Electrolux buildings and are converting it to grow fish.
La Perla Jarocha Restaurant is an offshoot of their grocery store and serves traditional Mexican food.  They rent an empty building until their restaurant facility will be ready in the next year or so.
InTANDEM Workspace is a community of like-minded professionals who want a different kind of place to work.  Located in one building, coworking is becoming the norm for many people.
Chicago Styles is a clothing store for hip, young people owned by a local Hispanic family.  The Laotian Grocery Store is new to the community and features Laotian food stuffs.
El Benedicion Mexican Grocery Store is right next door and offers food and other services like phone cards as well.
The Webster Movie Theater reopened under HERO ownership.  HERO is a nonprofit organization (Help Entertain and Restore Organization) that raised over $200,000 in a years’ time to save the movie theater and install new digital equipment.
SOS Vintage came to town to look at the Incubator Project and ended up buying their own building and opening up a store where people come from all over to shop.
Relax the Bath and TiDe Creations are two entrepreneurs who sell their products in SOS Vintage and bring originality to our community in a unique way.  Soaps made for the gods and hand crafted leather items you can’t find anymore – niche markets that people are looking for.
Stein Heating and Cooling moved from the country into town and we’re happy to have them here.
Shopko Hometown found us because we are ideally located along Highway 20, and we’re their market.
Marlies Garage is a local young man and his wife who branched out on their own and fixes cars and does alignments and believes in working in their own hometown.
Maid-Rite serves the traditional sandwiches and other sandwiches, breakfasts and goodies as well.  Also located along Highway 20 and locally owned.
Other expansions, new owners and moves in the last few years:
Interior Spaces
 bought Classic Carpet and Interiors – they are full service interior decorator business.
Thrifty White moved to 2nd Street and Broadway.
Maharry Dental is scheduled to open this spring in a larger, new building.
Webster City Community Theatre has completed their expansion.
Van Diest Supply Company continues to expand.
WCF Financial Bank has moved to a new building in a new location.
Splash Graphics expanded their business to Webster City.
Future of Health Massage moved to a new location.
Lucinda Stone started Therapeutic Life Center of Massage College.
Leah Feltz Fitness and Magers Martial Arts now have classes here in town.
New Horizons Travel and The Computer Guy, two new businesses in town, are in the coworking space.
P and P Electric has expanded.
Storm Flying Service has new owners.
I’m sure I’ve missed some too – and to those people I apologize.  It’s exciting to see all this growth!

Brendan did say “The town has not shriveled up, which is amazing.”  I just wonder why he thinks that is so amazing.  We are not quitters.  One factory leaving doesn’t stop a town like Webster City.  

You can read Brendan’s original article, and see my rebuttal in the comments. 

City Codes can be changed

Photo by Igor Ovsyannykov on Unsplash

If one city council can write a code, another one can change it! We talk about this a lot when sharing our empty buildings stories. I recently visited with a city clerk in Stanhope, Iowa and she mentioned they are working on changing their code. They are instituting  Building Maintenance Code that they got from Callendar, Iowa.

There’s a short version  Ordinance #167 Summary

And a long version! Ordinance #167 Property Maintenance Code


Embedded Community Experience Follow Up

Six Months Later in Belle Fourche

“It’s because you told us to take small steps, and we did,” said Gary Wood, Chamber Director at Belle Fourche, South Dakota. I visited there in October of 2017 for an Embedded Community Experience. Since my visit, much has happened!


Cowboys Too! Moved across the street from their former location in The Olive Branch and had their grand opening on April 25th.

The Olive Branch has taken over their former space and expanded their product lines.

The Pioneer Bank & Trust has announced a major building renovation on their downtown location.  The CEO attended the Collective Impact sessions hosted by Dakota Resources and decided after hearing the importance of downtown to remain in their location rather than relocating to the Hwy 85 corridor!

Pizza Hut moved across the road and Subway has purchased their building, are renovating it and putting in up to date ordering etc.

The East end of state street businesses are excited about the Historic Roosevelt Events Center coming on line after 17 years of inactivity.  The Chamber is hosting a five business Chamber mixer on June 26 for the Chambers ribbon cutting, cake reception for the Roosevelt and tours of our office and the building.  Area businesses are excited to bring this end of downtown back on line and a part of the entire downtown business district.  A couple closed businesses have come for sale after the closing of an estate and they’re hoping for people to catch the vision for this area.  East State Street is beginning to come back on line and the businesses on this end are thrilled.

ECE in Belle Fourche Cowboys Two


A new group of grass roots volunteers (gather your crowd folks) has formed Bring Belle Back and they are doing a little every month to clean up the corridor. Revitalize Belle Fourche (a city committee with business members on the committee) lighted our downtown and Bring Belle Back lighted the trees.  After a bit of struggle— “the trees are suffering from the LED lights” and calls to other cities and a professional arborist who told them actually the street lights are damaging the trees, not the LED lights!! The lights are now staying up permanently.  Many are enjoying the lighted downtown area and drive down just to see the lights.

Belle Fourche Ninja


The Roosevelt High School was purchased by a progressive young couple—they own another smaller school building in town already.  They purchased the Roosevelt last Fall and the 44,000 square foot facility came on line for events and business.  The Chamber of Commerce moved in April 1, 2018 into the principal’s office right inside the main doors.  Loads of parking, space for several events at the same time, including indoor and farmer’s markets.  They’ve hosted roller skating in the gym.  People rent it for volleyball, pickle ball, indoor soccer, dog training classes, family and class reunions.  The community room (former band room) seats 50 comfortably and has had pre-school graduations, birthday parties, boy scouts etc.  They are waiting for the demo kitchen to be put in so they can host food demonstrations etc.  It also features a 500 seat auditorium that needs to be refurbished and then will be available for plays, concerts etc. The Historic Roosevelt Events Center was featured by the associated press and picked up by the Seattle Times.  Local TV and radio have interviewed the owners several times and the buzz continues.

Roosevelt School in Belle Fourche


The Chamber envisioned an indoor market and considered several different spots. In January they  opened “Le Belle Marche’” in the Historic Roosevelt Events Center gym.  They had originally considered the former band room but quickly gained too many vendors for that space and filled the gym where there is have room for 44 vendors.  The Chamber is in association with three other private markets that take place on that day here in town.  We call it Market Days in Belle Fourche.

Our local radio station has come strongly on line with a new web site; streaming of programming and news.  A new employee is attending meetings and reporting on those meetings & events.  She’s producing innovative ads and creating a buzz.

Le Belle Marche

Gary sent along this note on what else the Chamber has been doing:


  • The Chamber is researching “Place Making” and will do a lunch and learn on the subject toward the end of this month to inspire business and individuals to get involved with place making.  I’m telling businesses that they can be place makers in their business and create Instagram worthy places for the generation that is looking for a community that has life, events and character.
  • The Chamber is seeking to develop a “midtown” concept in our “midtown” business district.  We have several businesses on “National Street” and we’re envisioning a “National Block Party” on the fourth of July holiday.  Kind of a play on the “National” part with the fourth of July celebration.  Remember we get 17,000 for the parade alone on the 4th.
  • The Chamber is helping the Sr. Citizen Center to come back on line as an important organization and place for our community.  They were aging.  The 87 year old lady was shoveling the snow.  We’ve featured a Chamber luncheon there, helping them to grow their membership and general encouraging them.
  • The Chamber has a new take on the Shop Local campaign. They are using Belle Fourche First, encouraging their businesses and residents to shop in Belle Fourche first. Their new campaign just kicked on in May.


A Few Ideas from Bennettsville, SC ECE

I had the pleasure to visit several small towns in March on my Massive March Road Trip.  I’ll be writing more about it, but today I’m sharing ideas from Bennettsville, SC you can put to work right away!

Newcomers Gathering

Bennettsville, SC had me come to town for an Embedded Community Experience. One cool thing they did was host a Newcomers Get Together. Everyone that had moved to town in the past year were invited by their realtors to attend this gathering. Those realtors invited them face to face and it really helped to bring more people to the event. There were treats, it was early evening and they all had a chance to ask a lot of questions. I talked about working together, sharing ideas and taking action. The newcomers also got to ask basic questions like can they burn garbage, where do they change their licenses at, and who should they contact for what.

Take Pictures

There are beautiful plants and flowers in South Carolina. I took this picture in the yard of the b and b I stayed at in Bennettsville. I realized that the locals would know what these flowers and plants are, but visitors may not. What if we shared our pics on Instagram and Facebook so possible visitors would know a little more about our nature?

Make Your Small Spaces Beautiful

This is a little pass through by the flower shop in Bennettsville. There’s a sweet statue, a path and greenery. What if they added a proper bench by the sidewalk entrance, some art on the brick instead of graffitti and created a lovely little resting place?

Ask Alumni for Help

This is a very old African American school in Bennettsville. They asked different graduating classes to take on the responsibility for one of the rooms. They finished floors, made the blackboards beautiful and put in new windows. The room will forever be theirs.

A Visit to Akron, Iowa

Embedded Community Experience

Sharon Frerichs, the mayor of Akron, Iowa invited me to come and be a part of the Embedded Community Experience in September. I spent three days there.


I told the mayor, that once I stepped out of my car, I was hers. She took me at my word. The embedded community visit started at 11 a.m. Tuesday and we wrapped it up at 2 p.m. on Thursday. Many businesses were visited, as were the coffee groups. Tuesday evening, the City Council meeting hosted a question and answer session with me as the guest. Wednesday evening I presented to interested citizens about Innovative Rural Business Models. I explored empty buildings, visited non-profit groups, ate at local food places, spent some time at the river with Justin Higman and thoroughly enjoyed myself.


Location, location, location – you are the gateway to the Loess Hills, situated on the Big Sioux. This is a tourism dream! Start with activities you can do around the Big Sioux: canoeing, kayaking, fishing, etc. Don’t forget winter activities: ice fishing, snow shoeing, etc.

  • Local winery right in town.
  • An old hospital re-energized into a makerspace, a home for a local artist, housing a massage therapist and a collector of fine things, and room for more businesses.
  • Beautiful houses.
  • A local grocery store, pharmacist, medical clinic, local veterinarian, and local hardware.
  • Great places to eat and shop.
  • A school system envied by many and locals who support it. This includes the pre-school and the thrift shop that supports it.
  • Senior apartment living and nursing home, too.
  • A farmers market.
  • Local community theater.
  • Local musical education and entertainment.
  • A beautiful building that houses your history.
  • A campground area with cabins, RV space and activities.
  • Alternative healthcare options – massage therapy, essential oils, etc.
  • Hole in the Wall
  • Artists that live and work in your town

Suggestions for things you can do:

Big Ideas:

  1. Places to stay. Outside of the Hole in the Wall, there is not really anywhere for visitors to community to stay. However, there are ideas you can put into place. Upstairs housing that can be used as AirBNB is one avenue. Opening a boutique hotel is another. Both of those can be costly, and require investors. They are worth pursuing though.
  2. There are communities near you that have overnight stay housing available: Hawarden and Le Mars. What if you worked with them to create an itinerary that includes Akron? Give visitors a reason to stay in the area for two or three days.
  3. Add entrance and exit signage to your community.
  4. Work with the students and the Old Geezer Club to get that workspace used more often.
  5. Use the fact that you are the entrance to Loess Hills for your marketing of the town.

Now look at how you can take small steps to make it happen.


A “Plant Your Flags” party has been scheduled for Monday, October 23 at 7:00 p.m. in the Security National Bank Community Room. It will let those who have ideas to get together, grab a flag, put a thought or idea on it, and let those with a similar interests join together to work towards a common goal.

If this sounds a bit vague, that’s because it is. This is a gathering for folks to come together and share their ideas. It’s not a committee meeting. Note taking and decision making are not suggested. Those who wish together on an idea will do so. This is where the small steps start: gather your crowd.

Perhaps a few folks could reach out to the hotels in surrounding communities and begin talking about places to stay, and offering them possible itineraries that include visiting Akron. This could be done by the Chamber or City, but what if there’s a few folks interested in doing it? Maybe parents whose children attend some classes at the SPA could partner with the volunteers at the community theater.

What if the Old Geezers Club started involving students in their workspace. Could they design some ideas for entrance and exit signs? It starts with just having a conversation about it. What would they want it to look like? Who do they know that could help them? Gather Your Crowd and Build Connections.


  • Mayor Sharon Frerichs and Justin Higman attended a Mayors Conference on the Big Sioux river. Justin is attempting to get all of the mayor’s together from North Sioux to Sioux Falls, and then meet with the Iowa DNR and the SD DNR to set up a meeting on cleaning up their part of the river, and getting/pursuing info on a bike trail.
  • Agreement came through for the tear down of the old auto parts store.
  • Julie Madden covered the visit for the local paper at
  • The city is showing the SaveYour.Town webinars for the entire community.
  • Prospective new business owners have been to town to look at possible locations (not at liberty to share their information).
  • The Akron Development Council is looking at investing in a new business – details will be released when the paperwork is completed.
  • Mackenzie Waddell is working with the Opera House to begin the process of historical status and main street store front restoration.

The beauty of Embedded Community Experiences is that it’s a chance for the town to see through my eyes. We hear so often ‘there’s nothing to do here’ that we start to believe it. Now, this small town can no longer say that. There’s many things to do, to be proud of and they are taking small steps to create their own brighter future.

Artisan Pop Up

Every year Sidney, Iowa hosts a rodeo. People come from all over to attend and enjoy SW Iowa. It’s a big deal. Sidney is a pretty small town, about 1,100 people. Professional cowboys come to this rodeo to compete in this four day event. There’s carnival rides, bucking broncos and lots of cowboys!

This year a group of crafters got together and thought “what can we do to give the women who come for this something to do?” They’d heard about pop-ups from us at SaveYour.Town and one of them suggested they do a pop-up for artisans.

So they did it. They found a building that was empty and negotiated to use for the four day event. They came together to put their art and crafts into it, and decided who was going to work the space and when.

It was a smashing success! There was a wide variety of items featured, and people shopped all four days.

Then the artisans thought “what if we did this all the tlEime?” They negotiated the rent on the building, encouraged other artists to participate and provide items for sale. They decided on being open Wednesday through Saturday. JoElla Travis, the rug maker in the group, said “I work a lot of the hours at the pop-up. And why not? I can make my rugs anywhere and I love meeting people!” She doesn’t get paid, yet. Perhaps one day she will, but for now she’s content to be involved in this project.

JoElla also teaches classes on how to make rag rugs. We brought her up to Webster City twice now as an instructor at Legacy Learning Boone River Valley. She’s the lady on the left in this picture.

The story continues to grow. They’ve not started their own blog! Not just a regular website, but a blog. Now you can follow along and see what events are coming, who’s in the shop and hear their stories.

This is Idea Friendly at it’s best. They gathered their crowd: crafters and artisans who make things. They built connections: found a place to host their pop up, continue to talk to other artisans and online connections. They took small steps: hosted a quick 4 day pop up to see if it worked. They didn’t dilly dally and wait for permission from some official. They saw an opportunity and took it.

Today they continue to build, learn from their mistakes, and grow. We wish them much success!

The future of retail


Photo by Calum MacAulay on Unsplash

McKenzie reports that by 2020 1/3 of the worlds markets will be emerging.

Retail stores will need to be leaner, denser and more in touch with their digital channels. When it’s so easy to shop online, it’s obviously affected the brick and mortar stores. Did you know 44% of those surveyed actually do product research while shopping in the store? They pull out their mobile device and look for lower prices, customer satisfaction ratings, and product reviews. If they can find it somewhere else, for less and with great customer satisfaction ratings, and all else is equal – why would they shop in your store? The answer is – they won’t.

Are you offering an experience? No one HAS to come to you. They can find what they want online or in a big box store in a larger town. What do you offer that would compel someone to come to your store? Your market is no longer your geographic community, they are shopping in other places too. You have to find your customer – they are not looking for you. With the advent of digital marketing, researching online and comparison shopping done easily in the palm of your hand – things have changed. You need to stand out. And you need to shine the spotlight on yourself.

How can you be different? Product lines that no one close carries, specially sourced items, exclusive designer lines are just a few of the items you could offer. What if you changed up your space – I mean really changed it up – and made offerings denser, more attractive and in line with your digital space. That is, if you have one. If you don’t, you’ll be left in the dust.

How’s your customer service? What are you doing that makes people happy when they come in your store? It’s more than just a friendly greeting. Are you offering assistance with decision making? Are you following up after a purchase has been made? Are you using a newsletter to provide customer specials?

Are you taking advantage of the simple things? Is your business listed in Google places? Do you have an active Facebook business page? Are you paying attention to your twitter account and your competitors accounts? Are you blogging and establishing yourself as an expert in your field? Do you collect emails from customers and send them a monthly electronic newsletter?

I hear you say “I don’t have time for that.”

Well guess what, soon enough you’ll have plenty of time – because no one will be shopping your store.