What will the future look like?

Location doesn’t matter in the future.

You can work from anywhere. Work will be competitive and informal/hands on education will be valuable. Artists will be in good shape and Dr’s will see more robots replacing them.  It will be the networking economy and we will need people who can connect with robots.

Empathy, communication skills, management and leadership skills and entrepreneurial skills are going to save you.

We will need lots of cross pollination with business and schools. Find out what your expertise is and find a way to bring it to the community. Those who hand make items, or manufacture items by hand, will be good. Artists should be fine.  Innovation wins.

When is all of this going to happen?

Let’s look at the numbers predicated on research:

  • by 2025 one in three jobs will be robot replaced, displacing 140,000,000 workers.
  • By 2020 millennials will be 50% of the workforce, and by 2025 it will be 75%.
What does this mean for rural?

Figure out how to connect digital to physical and provide the space for it.Artificial Intelligence, Autonomous machines, augmented reality, data management – all of these things are here already. How can you make more room for them in your small towns? How can you provide a wonderful empty building for living and working in your town?

Learn how to use augmented and virtual reality. Workers are now training in real time with virtual reality. A car mechanic can watch an engine being repaired and it appears in front of him virtually. He can work on his own engine at the same time. Learn how to fly a drone, get a license and think of all the opportunities coming: rural deliveries, transport blood in rural Africa, building virtual and augmented reality for clients, to name a few.

Businesses working with students, kindergarten through college, will be vital to provide workforce, ideas and skills. They are the future, and they are here now.

Think differently about farming. Vertical farming will show up in lots of places. People want to be more responsible for they eat. Organic farmer will go to a new level. How you can use that in your small town? What kind of robotics will be need to be built to plant and harvest the crops with no humans? There will be 4 billion more people on the planet by 2025, and we will need to feed them.

Idea Friendly Towns will be the most prepared for the future.

The ability to live in the present and prepare for the future will matter. The crowd will create new ideas, and be more innovative. The future will be built by people working together, and we will get there by taking small steps.


What story are you telling?

We can be our own worst enemies. It’s time to change that habit.

The rural narrative that others are writing about us is just not true. Rural is NOT dying, and they are describing rural based on deficits. Let’s get better about talking about our assets.
Our downtowns have changed not because they are rural but because living in the world has changed. 

Rural population has actually gone up 11% since 1970. Our urban areas are growing wider, not taller. Des Moines, Iowa has spread out to include in the metro West Des Moines, Urbandale, Grimes, Ankeny and many more. Look in your state, do you see the metros spreading out to include what used to be small towns? Wider – not taller.

Too often we tell our stories based on used to, coulda done, and shoulda had. 

We focus on what we didn’t get, what we don’t have and what went wrong. Realize you are not helping to tell your story in a positive light.

If you ask me about Webster City, Iowa I’m going to share about our 6 mile trail that goes out to Briggs Woods Park. I’ll tell you about the movie theater we saved from extinction. You’ll hear about all the new businesses coming to town.

If you ask someone else it is very likely you’ll hear “we used to have the factory, but they left and now we don’t have much.” That is certainly true – they left. But what is not true is the statement we don’t have much. We used to have a factory; we coulda saved it maybe; we shoulda got another factory. These are not stories that welcome newcomers.

If a place is nice place to visit, it’s a nice place to live there.

Let’s start showing our visitors our nice side. What are the good things about your community? Write them down, and share them everywhere. Encourage your friends to talk about the good things. Post them on Facebook.

Can’t find enough nice things to talk about? Look at the nonprofits in your community. Our nonprofits tell the world what we care about, what is important. In my town we focus on mental health, senior care, youth involvement, and building up our downtown. There are more of course, but those are the ones I know for sure about. People volunteer and give to nonprofits in your town, those are the things they care about. Rural leads the world in giving to our own, and making life better for those who need it.

People want to live in small towns for several reasons .

They include; simpler pace of life, safety and security, low housing costs, and the ability to be part of the community. In fact, there is a migration of 30 to 59-year old’s moving into rural areas. How can we get those people to come to our towns?

We expect these newcomers to be ‘part of my group’ and when you don’t notice them you say “well, they’re not in my group.” Newcomers are engaged; however, they are engaged in their interests, not yours! When we do meet these newcomers, we welcome them to the community and then ask them to be part of our groups. Join the Rotary! Join the Lions! Volunteer here!

We are looking for leadership before engagement.

What if we took the time to get to know them first instead of scaring them off? Find out what their interests are and stop asking them to join organizations that require they commit a huge chunk of their time. Invite them to the pancake dinner. Tell them about the music in the park. Let them know what is going on in your town, and find out what they are interested in.

Tell your story in a positive light, and engage with people.

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 paula@dakotaresources.org.