June 2011

In visiting with many rural communities over the years there was a common theme among most of them. Each of these communities thought that they could attract an established business to move to their town and hire many of the local citizens to high-paying jobs.

I’m still waiting to see the first business move to a small rural town and hire local citizens. Yes, some businesses do come to town, but in my experience they are typically small mom-and-pop type ventures, that at most hire one or two people, in unskilled low-paying jobs.

I have also had the opportunity to observe and entrepreneurship program in a rural high school. The students in this program were not taught about entrepreneurship, but were actually becoming practicing entrepreneurs. They had established a wide range of businesses, with a wide range of results.

However, as I watched I became acutely aware that several of the businesses the students had started were very well suited to sell their products and services over the Internet to anywhere in the world. And, could easily be operated from a small town with Internet access.

Three things about this scenario became very clear to me; One, and entrepreneurship program in a rural high school could become an ongoing pipeline of businesses for rural community. The program I observed at 19 students in it. Obviously, not all 19 were going to stay in town and run their business. But if just one student a year stayed in their local community and started a business, over 10 years this pipeline of businesses would make a phenomenal difference for rural community.

Secondly, these kids already know what it’s like to live in a small rural town and are well-adjusted to their individual settings. It is extremely difficult to attract individuals with businesses to a rural community which they are totally unfamiliar with.

And thirdly, many of our kids express a sincere desire to return to and raise their family in a rural setting. The main reason they give for not doing this is the lack of an opportunity to earn a good living. If our kids are building their own opportunities, and starting at a time in their life where they can let their business grow slowly, chances of them coming back are greatly enhanced. Yes, most of the kids will still go away for Post secondary education, but the chances that they will return to their rural community are greatly enhanced when they know there is a way to make a good living in their local community.

So it is my belief that a key component of every rural community development project should be the development of an entrepreneurship program and the local high school. These programs can make a huge difference for the rural community, and even though students who desire to leave rural America have still developed a skill set that will serve them well wherever they decide to live.

Read more from Steve Wyckoff.