5 reasons to attend the Rural X Summit & other conferences like it / by Annette Tait

With this year’s RuralX Summit right around the corner — mark your calendars forJune 27 & 28 in Mitchell, S.D. — it's time to think about how being present can change your community. What can you learn? Who can you meet?  What inspiration can you get?

The RuralX Summit is organized by Dakota Resources in South Dakota, and brings rural champions and community leaders together across several states for learning and networking. The last two years, champions from North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota and Iowa were in attendance.

2018 RuralX logo.jpg

So, besides the regular reasons — like networking and national speakers — here are 5 reasons to attend:

Rural success stories. Hear first-hand from other communities what they are doing, how it’s working and how they learned to be idea friendly. When we talk to others struggling with the same small-town problems, we discover new ideas and ways of achieving our goals and dreams for our communities.

Visibility. Just because you or community may be “way out there” doesn’t mean you have to subscribe the old adage “out of sight, out of mind.”  Being seen and telling your stories keeps you in people’s minds. This is an ideal way to showcase your assets and build new outlets. You may doing a whiz-bang job with your digital marketing, but nothing beats the connections you can make in person.

Community Connections. By “community,” we mean small towns in general.  Rural and small towns have a unique way of forming their own “communities” outside of their own city’s boundaries -- many are connected over vast distances through commerce and family ties. Attending events strengthens those ties, makes us stronger, more resilient and better able to weather whatever storms come our way. It’s true: “Where people gather, community happens.”

 Rural development advocate Hugh Webber, OTA (weareota.com), and Washburn, N.D., Economic Development Director Tana Larsen visit during the 2017 RuralX Summit.

Rural development advocate Hugh Webber, OTA (weareota.com), and Washburn, N.D., Economic Development Director Tana Larsen visit during the 2017 RuralX Summit.

The energy of like-minded people. Small town leaders and advocates often feel they are going it alone. The energy of being in a room full of people — people willing to take time away to be there, too — is undeniable. They, too, attend conferences, seminars, and networking sessions to better themselves and their communities, and also to support each other. When you are at these events and conferences, you realize that you are not alone in wanting to make a difference, and that your vision really is within reach.

New ideas.  A hundred people can all hear the same expert, and each one will take away a little something different. By being present at these events, we talk to each other, learn, and expand our creative process. The speakers are fabulous, and bring relevant, affordable, doable ideas. We become excited again about what we love about our communities and what we want to accomplish.

BONUS: Have fun! For many of us, attending a conference is equal to a vacation — visiting a new town, a new state and/or new anything is exciting! Take some time to explore and enjoy before or after the days’ events.

We can it hear it now… all the reasons why not to go. “We can’t afford it.” “Aren’t we too small?” “We don’t have a Chamber/Job Development Association.”

 On-the-spot block prints were one 2017 RuralX Summit example of a pop-up business just made for rural areas and events. 

On-the-spot block prints were one 2017 RuralX Summit example of a pop-up business just made for rural areas and events. 

How can you not afford to go? Ask local banks, businesses or community groups to help with costs — your participation is in their best interest, too. You will bring back valuable knowledge on creative housing options, marketing your hometown, public spaces, filling empty buildings, pop-up-shops, funding sources and more. These are important to the community as whole!

Or get together with neighboring cities or counties. Several small towns or counties can easily band together and send a representative who can then report back to everyone involved.

Or do you think your town is too small? There is No. Such. Thing. Every single community has something of value. Events like Rural X can help you discover hidden assets and how to leverage them.

It doesn’t matter one bit if you don’t have a Chamber of Commerce or a Visitors Bureau. What truly matters is that you care.