One of the 'new' buzzwords is "Walkability".
What does that mean exactly? Basically it means the ease of getting around on foot, or how pedestrian friendly is your town. There is a nifty site you can use to determine your own towns score- Walkscore The scoring is 0-100.
Remember back when - when folks walked to the market? Or to the pool? Or the DQ?? That was 'walkable' Entire neighborhoods and towns were designed so families could walk from one end to the other. We have gotten away from that as a norm, but it's making a comeback!
I just used Walkscore to determine the walk-ability of the five closest towns to us. (we're within 25 miles of all) The results were 39, 21, 0, 27, 38 and 0. Those are all on the low end.
I was thinking about this today when we were discussing our mythological retirement. (Do ranchers really retire?) I now understand why so many retirees want to head South- Walk-able neighborhoods and ease of use.
Two of our nearby towns are, in my opinion, more walk-able than their scores suggest. However, I know that isn't the norm in rural communities. For many, the reality is that the folks who live there need to be mobile- meaning they need to drive or get rides for everyday tasks like groceries or going to the doctor.
Which leads to more questions.... Are these communities using walk-ability as a means of attracting new families or retirees? Are they using it to retain the people they have? Are they creatively promoting their walk-ability?
I know several are. Yes, it's still many miles 'to town', but Washburn, ND is doing a good job promoting how quickly you can walk downtown from anywhere, or right to the river.
WHY is walk-ability important? Walk-ability has many facets. Everything from health benefits to retention. Having good walk-ability can mean that retiring 'outlyers' or city folk may want to move to your small town. That translates into more dollar tax dollars, tourism dollars, retail dollars and so on.
Good walk-ability is also healthful. We've become so health conscious as a nation and environmentally friendly - a walk-able town is a very marketable asset. It is also great for recreation opportunities like nature walks, photo strolls, coffee shop walk...walk to the pop-up dog park. The ideas are endless really.
Walk-ability is a good marketing tool for retaining or finding residents and attracting new employees or businesses.
While many small towns do not have the amenities of the city, I do know we can raise our 'walk-able score'- Cheaply, easily and nearly free- We can start by highlighting fun or interesting walking places like an architecture or garden walk, or start talking about how quickly we can walk (or bike) to the local pool/gym/baseball diamonds. We can showcase how easily people walk downtown (or up town) for fun events. Just by thinking creatively and TALKING about it... better yet- people could share their ideas on social media.
The best perk of Walk-ability? It builds community. We tend to stop and chat, or at the very least smile and wave as we hurry on our way. When people talk- community happens.
So, how walk-able is YOUR community?
Take a stroll around your neighborhood or town and get inspired!
Are You a Bad Boss?? Would you know if you were? Would anyone tell you?
Or are you the kind of boss people want to work for?
Bad Bosses are bigger problem in small towns than one would think.
I was a Horrible Boss. I didn't know I was. At least not until a 16 yr old told with more pluck than the grown ups asked me is I was always 'like that?'.
Statistically 75% of people will quit a job, even if they love what they do, on account of a bad boss. (I have.) According to a study, 19.2 hours a week is spent worrying about bad bosses. Employees who have bosses they don’t like are 60% more likely to have a heart attack- that’s a staggering number! (Journal of Occupational Medicine)
Research on “The Damage Inflicted by Poor Managers” by the Gallup Organization shows that “actively disengaged” employees outnumber engaged employees almost two-to-one. Disengagement corresponds with lower productivity, loyalty, and profitability, and higher rates of absenteeism, safety incidents, and employee turnover, which “can cost businesses approximately 1.5 times the annual salary of every person who quits.
In my early 20’s we bought a cafe in a small town. Very small- 98 people… We bought it sight unseen on a handshake at a football game (We didn’t realize that our handshake was sealing the deal until we actually went to go see it… but that’s another story!)
It seemed I had a very bad habit of micro-managing every...single...little...thing. I will claim youth as my defense, but it is really no excuse at all. Thankfully I learned my lesson and became a good boss. You would think I would have already known better since my dad constantly reminded us to “inspire someone today”
Working in a city, it is usually no big deal to simply quit a job, because there are so many more to choose from. Even if it’s not your dream job or it doesn’t pay as well, there are multiple jobs to be had.
In a small town, the pickings can be very slim. Most folks who work in a small town stay in that job no matter what. No matter how much they may dislike the way their boss acts, they know that there’s probably not another job in town.
Bosses may not even know they’re behaving badly. (I didn’t) Other ones take great pride in being real jerks. I do not believe that are specific guidelines for being ‘bad’, but I’m sure we’ve all experienced one at some point!
Being the “BB” in a small town can nearly cripple a business. Maybe your not being able to find employees or retain customers is personal. Aside from not being able to fill shifts, employees usually tell anyone who will listen what a bad boss they have… Other people thinking you are a bad person is bad for business. Word gets around in a small town and most people by nature will avoid someone they perceive to be bad. Reduced productivity is another side effect- many employees will just go through the motions and do their time.
Being the boss someone wants to work for is a great experience. For you, your employees and the community at large. A good boss empowers their employees to make good decisions and inspires them to be better. A good boss is also approachable, fair but firm. A good boss is willing to listen to and try new ideas. Happy employees can change the dynamics of a business. Happy employees reflect good leadership, and their satisfaction shows in how they interact with customers, suppliers, and everyone else they come in contact with. And people are more likely return to places where they had positive experiences.
16 yr old Jens taught me to relax about some things ~
“What’s the worst that can happen? … just chill and let me do my job”
That was my eye-opener.
So- What kind of a boss are YOU?
Let’s say people want to visit your town. Or maybe it’s a special holiday and folks have family who want to come. Your town has a gift shop and café and other interesting things to do, but zero lodging.
What do most folks do? If they aren’t already staying at friends or relatives, they will stay 25-50 miles away in “the city” because it has a hotel. They will also buy gas for their car and eat breakfast before coming your way.
How can you capture those dollars? Circle the wagons –in a manner of speaking. Do you have RV owners in town willing to rent their motorhomes for a few nights? (Glamping anyone?)
This is a perfect opportunity to showcase small town hospitality, while also capturing dollars that would have otherwise been spent elsewhere.
The odds are high that, while staying in your town, these folks will shop at the local grocery/gift/hardware store, go out to eat, and purchase gas.
The Shady Dell, Bisbee, Ariz., has made an entire business out of rental campers. Theirs are fully vintage, and available year-round.
But they wouldn’t have to be. Use your imagination!
So … how is your community supposed to afford that? You could negotiate a fee, then give a part of that fee to a service club like Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, 4-H, or FFA for cleaning the unit(s) when the folks are gone.
Or maybe the community could purchase a couple of older models and re-hab them with the help of the high school shop class and use them year-round. Why not dual purpose units? They’re great for lodging when needed, and can double as pop-up shops. Here’s an example from retailer Nomad -- or maybe local crafters would like to have their own shared location?
Again, get creative and think outside the box.
So let’s say our sample family visits “Town #2.” There’s no lodging and no food, maybe fuel, but still no shops. Nothing -- just a wide spot in the road with some houses. Now what?
These visitors are probably staying with friends or family. But, even with home-grown family entertainment, they still need to be fed. And the nearest anything is miles away. What do you do?
Invite the community to host a free-will breakfast/luncheon/dinner at the old school, the park (if the weather’s good), someone’s house, or at a church. Donations can pay for a main dish and/or picnic supplies, with any proceeds going to a local charity. Invite the whole town to bring potluck dishes and introduce the visitors to everyone!
Good food, new friends, plenty of fun!
And while they’re visiting, and enjoying local cuisine, make sure to round up every home vendor/foodie/artisan/crafter/small business and have a pop-up show for the entire town. Play games, visit, tell stories … have a fun for all!
Take advantage of every opportunity to showcase what you DO have, versus what you think you don’t have. And any monies raised can be used towards upkeep on your little two-room stone jail, public park, or some other cause. Perk: Your guests become part of an extended family, and leave with great stories to tell about the time they spent in your little town.
This approach can produce tremendous results for any town or local area -- you get exposure for the town and the vendors, and event for local residents, and your guests go home with goods purchased locally and a newfound sense of belonging.
There’s an old joke about “Our town’s so small we don’t have a town drunk – everyone has to take turns.” If you get past the “town drunk” part, there’s a ring of truth to the statement – it takes everyone to get the job done.
Not too long ago we were at one of those solo events for rural women – Ladies Ag Night -- which started out as an evening of fun and learning for the ladies but has branched out to include the gents as well. We had some fun, enjoyed an up-and-coming comedian who shared her typical, but hilariously told, experiences as a city girl learning farm life, and learned a bit about the personality side of Real Colors.
No, this wasn’t one of those “what not to wear” color profiles. It was the 10-minute – okay, more like about 45-minute – tour through a system that helps people identify their strongest personality leanings, understand how people who fall under the other colors see life, and how to best work together. It’s a lot of fun, and some of the groups’ list items and moderator’s comments had us rolling – not laughing at each other, but with each other in agreement.
In a nutshell, everyone self-selected behaviors, values, and beliefs they connected most strongly with. There were several phases that used different methods, so as to reach a more accurate result than could be achieved using a one-size-fits-all model.
It wasn’t the first time we’ve done this, and our results weren’t surprising. What was really interesting, though, were some of the side conversations. “I never would have pegged you for an orange!” “Wow – I always thought I’d be more of a green.” “Do you see how many blues there are?” “Gold? I sure didn’t see THAT coming!”
Don’t be misled – there were broad ranges in the final numbers. Some people’s primary color was far and away their strongest, with the other three trailing far behind. Others were in a much closer numerical grouping, and there were plenty between the two extremes.
The best part was the side discussions of how people saw themselves when the color they selected suggested different skill sets than they expected. We talked among ourselves about how analytical traits combined with empathy, how leadership traits combined with flexibility, and how great people skills and valuing relationships helped offset competitiveness and the affinity for structure.
Think about it. Logical, scientific, research-oriented (green category) people are great to have on a committee looking at revamping the park or making improvements to the school. They’ll get the details and the numbers straight. But adding other traits to the mix will make the committee even better. Bringing a few golds into the group will add greater organization, conservatism and positivity – traits that help move the project forward, while also playing devil’s advocate when needed. A blue or two will help keep everyone working together by using their insight and caring to help consider the needs of those who use the park or the school, while also helping to keep peace when disagreements arise. And let’s not forget the orange category – these folks are great trouble-shooters who like to keep the working environment positive. Need to raise money for the project? Orange traits like persuasiveness and optimism shine at recruiting volunteers and fundraising.
As you can see, all of the traits have value, and all of the personality “colors” bring something to the table -- some off-setting others to create a better whole. And -- no matter the size or scope of the project -- who doesn’t want the best possible outcome?
The rise and fall of rural communities: Just one of many reasons how and why
A good friend recently forwarded this article to Katy: “The secret to keeping some rural businesses alive” by Chris Farrell (Forbes) with the note, ‘It sounds like you!’
After reading it, we decided it does sound much like things we talk about. And we have a few more thoughts add on keeping small/rural businesses alive.
Picture this: Somebody wants to purchase Bob the Builder’s business. That somebody has ideas. New ideas. Fresh ideas. Ideas to bring in more sales consistently. Ideas that build on the existing business.
Now for the zinger (which, sad to say, we’ve witnessed first-hand more than once): The good town folks get wind of this and start vociferously voicing their opinions on said -- gasp! -- changes. Everything from “You CAN’T change thaaaaaat XYZ….” “It’s ALWAYS been like XYZ,” and “It will NEVER workif you change XYZ.”
How do “they” KNOW? Are they experts? Or are they simply resistant to change, because they’re comfortable with what they have?
By saying making these negative comments, they imply -- whether they mean to or not -- that they won’t support the new business. Not monetarily, and not in spirit.
That is daunting to say the least.
This scene has been played out many times in small and rural communities, as well as in big cities, usually with the same result. The buyer who was so excited to have a business in YOUR town backs out and takes their dreams somewhere else. If they don’t take them somewhere else, they simply give up.
Either way the community loses.
The reality is that, especially in a small town, when that one buyer who came forward decides against the venture, odds are good that building -- which could have continued as a viable business and contributor to the community -- will instead become an empty shell.
The longer it stands empty, the greater likelihood the building will fall into disrepair, discouraging other potential buyers. Plus, other folks who may have considered starting or buying a business see the town won’t support change, and they decide to look elsewhere as well.
And poor Bob the Builder gets unconsciously guilted into delaying well-deserved retirement
But what if those changes had been embraced? What a completely different ending the story has. Now, not only does Bob the Builder get to retire, but he is happy knowing his legacy is still alive. The townfolks are excited to still have tools, and even have opportunities for hands-on “how to” sessions, a wider selection, and/or even a new line of hobby or other equipment and supplies.
Or maybe Bob’s building gets completely transformed into a new type of business the community never even knew it wanted until it was open? Maybe Bob’s becomes Zane the Zebra Tamer and offers all sorts of fun and fanciful items or activities. It could even bring people in from outside the area, and boost the economy.
By embracing change in our rural communities, we foster entrepreneurial spirit, grow the tax base, set an example for others, and attract new families. That’s just a partial list of positive things!
But most important of all, we build community.
~Katy & Annette~
One is a tiny number, right? Like when we hear fire claimed “only one” structure in our county last year, or that “just one” person had to be extricated from a car wreck. In those terms, things don’t sound all that bad.
But what if it was YOUR structure that burned to the ground, or YOUR loved one who was trapped in a vehicle?
Recently, a local family was “the one.” They woke to discover their greenhouse – which contributes a significant part of their livelihood – was on fire. If that wasn’t enough, the building also housed an equipment shed and working mechanic shop, including welding gases, and there were fuel tanks along an outside wall.
Our local volunteer fire department turned out in force, working from a safe distance to protect a calving barn and three homes that are on the property. The welding gases and fuel tanks made it too dangerous to get anywhere near the burning building.
Even though the greenhouse was a total loss, a family member told us, “If the firefighters hadn’t been there, it all would have burned.” They could have lost everything.
Emergency services aren’t something we should take for granted, but we do. When we call 911, we expect whoever is needed to show up and take care of our problem.
But what if they didn’t? What if the firefighters HADN’T been there to protect what was left of this family’s operation, not to mention their homes?
Last year, rural firefighters from across North America came together to talk about how hard it is to keep their doors open. In “larger” rural communities, those with 5,000-9,999 people, almost 45 percent of fire departments are all volunteer. That percentage goes up to 74 percent in communities with 2,500-4,999 people, and in tiny counties like ours, with populations less than 2,500, nearly 93 percent of fire departments rely fully on volunteers.
Just because there are fewer people in rural communities doesn’t mean there are fewer fires. When people are more spread out, the proportion actually rises. In big cities, where there are a million or more people, there are only 3.1 fires per 1,000 people, with a national average of 4.5. Which means something has to bring that national average up.
That something is those of us who live rural: there are 10.8 – yes, more than double the national average -- fires per 1,000 people in communities that have fewer than 2,500 people. Is that an eye-opener, or what?
The next question is, how are we going to keep the doors open at our rural fire departments, to make sure there’s a crew there to answer the call? Rural fire volunteers are aging – 42 percent have been with their departments for more than 10 years, and many a lot longer than that. And fewer people are stepping up to fill their shoes.
We get it. It’s hard to work full time, raise a family, take care of a house and yard, and try to get in some downtime when we can.
But if we don’t – if YOU don’t – who will?
Put away the “why nots” and consider the reasons “why to.” Volunteer fire departments need all kinds of volunteers – they need firefighters, drivers, and people to haul water, direct traffic over the radio, feed crews on fire lines, and help with all the details that keep the department running. And most departments provide all the needed training and equipment.
How healthy is your local volunteer fire department? What do they need? And how will you say “yes”?
Annette & Kate
If it involves small towns, rural, business or people, we write about it. Both the good and the bad. Part of our passion is helping you be the best you can be.