Our our small towns killing themselves?

Often  I think so.

Yes, I KNOW that the Northwestern part of the state is growing by leaps and bounds. That isn’t all there is to North Dakota!

Turtle Lake

So many of our towns lie quiet and on the brink of extinction. Literally. Others have become ‘bedroom’ communities. Nothing more than places people go to sleep after a day of working, playing & shopping elsewhere.

” a town or a city is a geographical expression of an economic reality”

There are countless reasons for a town to disappear. Exodus of people, lack of suitable employment, no entertainment are some. Farm consolidation and sometimes the mergers of Church’s plays a role. Our own mobility has played a part.

I think we need to ask ourselves WHY do people leave?, WHAT can we do to prevent it? And WHO are the people we want to target to come to our towns and help us regrow.

There are numerous town within 50 miles of where I live. Only a couple are actually thriving. In one town the Economic Developer actually said “Why do we need to do anything, as close to Bismarck as we are?” This town has NO downtown any longer. And NO services except the bars and gas station. This ED has assumed that we ALL have the ability to get from point A to point B at any giving time and that we ALL want to spend time and fuel just go get something.

In another town, the previous ED had a number of HOTEL  chains interested in doing business there. This town has a major tourist attraction, is on a main Highway and has no suitable lodging. Can you believe that local business owners got together and had meeting with the city because they didn’t want someone else ‘Taking food of their tables”? Yes Really… I though competition was good…Guess what? NO HOTEL HERE!

In this same town, we absolutely REFUSE to patronize the Rexall. It’s really a shame, because this store is only 20 miles from the house. Instead we choose to add an additional 20 miles to our round-trip and go one more town over. They are ALWAYS nice to us there. To date, in the six years we have been ‘back’, we have NEVER (an that’s NOT an exaggeration) once had our presence acknowledged in that store. Apparently they are making plenty of money and don’t need us or our money.

And yet they have the gall to complain to the local board about people don’t support them. Shocker.

Some other reasons that our towns are dying…. Complacency, Rejecting any and ALL new ideas, (especially if they are from ‘outsiders’) Not even trying to attract new business & Bad customer service.

What can we DO to reverse the trend? I’ve heard plenty of good ideas. Heck, I’ve even thrown a few of my own into the ring.

Let’s listen to out youth! Some of them WANT to stay right here. And they are also the ones will be moving ‘back’ someday. What do they think of the future?

Apprenticeship could be another way to populate and get new business or retain existing businesses.  There are plenty of people set to retire. And then what? WHO is going to replace that closed business? WHY should that building be left to set empty?  Let’s attract people who WANT to do business and stay local that can bring fresh ideas to town….Who says apprenticeship is for only the young?

WHY can’t our little towns be vital centers for boutique shopping and the arts? I’ve seen it work in other states. There’s no rule that says our towns have to be sleepy and backwards.

Welcome NEWCOMERS!!!! Make them feel like VITAL members of the community. Let them play the reindeer games. Exclusion or looking down on them just makes them put in their ‘time’ (example- they work at one of the plants) and then leave. Taking their children who may have wanted to stay in the area with them.

True story- In the the one town, I was working part time when we moved back. One day I overheard a lady say they were behind on their quilting at church. (they were making comfort quilts) I volunteered to help. She dropped of quilting supplies the next day at my work. That very afternoon, a so-called UPPER MEMBER of the community came and TOLD me to give it back, they ‘Didn’t need or want my help’. Really? I got UN-INVITED from Church-Stuff???? I cheerfully let her know exactly what I thought of that!

And they actually wonder why we leave…

Freshen up! More than just planters in the summer. Most towns have a fund for this and can tap local resources such as a service group (think Boy Scouts) to get it done. Even if the buildings are empty they can still be painted and the yard mowed.  What’s that saying about ‘attracting more flies with honey’???

You want to be a community. Then ACT like a community. Host events.  INCLUDE everyone. Have public forums for ideas about local entertainment.  One very nice community has music every week ,spring thru fall, in the park they built in the open space between two buildings on their main street.  It really has a great way of bringing every one together of all ages. They all feel CONNECTED by this one simple thing.

World's biggest Walleye

Lay OFF the negativity! The little town I live nearest to has 33 residents. We have potential. But it’s an uphill battle against the Old Guard. One in particular has been in the media spotlight lately saying that our little town is Over. Done. Finished.  It’s like swimming upstream…

Every town has something to offer. Let’s capitalize on it. Reverse the mass exodus. North Dakota is about more than just the Oil Boom. IT’S ABOUT US. The people. It’s about being Pioneers and blazing the trail for others to follow. Think outside the box. There is plenty of opportunity here.  Who will lead the way? Which town will set the bar by showing that you don’t have to have a big box store to be successful? With the Internet, and UPS, just about any business  can be a viable business in a small town!

There is a great book out there “13 ways to KILL your community”  by Doug Griffiths. I highly recommend it to anyone who thinks they can, or wants to make a difference.  In it he outlines 13 of the biggest ways communities are killing themselves and offers practical insight and solutions. I highly

recommend reading it!



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2 Responses to Our our small towns killing themselves?

  1. Peter says:

    Great post! I split my time between Fargo and another small town about two hours away, and often wonder what we can do to encourage development in our community.

    One book I really enjoyed reading was: “Dakota: A Spiritual Geography” by Kathleen Norris…great writing on her experiences moving back to Lemmon, SD after living in New York.

    • katy kassian says:

      I’ll have to read that book. Thanks for the heads up on it. I’ve lived in many small (ok…TINY) communities. Some of them went by the wayside. a couple of them really got creative and are still thriving. It’s truly amazing what you CAN do if you put your differences aside for the greater good.

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