Small towns are some of the most seductively charming places you will ever live, according to a recent "grassroots" Rural Research Report from the Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs.
The report, "Bigger Is Not Always Better: Bardstown, Kentucky," summarizes the experiences of Kim Huston, president and chief operating officer of the Nelson County Economic Development Agency in Bardstown, one of the "100 Best Small Towns in America." Huston, author of "Small Town Sexy: The Allure of Living in Small Town America," notes that Bardstown does have the advantage of being 50 miles from Louisville, the state's major metropolitan area. The small city, population 11,000, uses its location in the rolling area of central Kentucky as an asset. This is part of a regional approach that emphasizes Bardstown's strengths as part of a larger package.
She notes that small towns across America are developing ways to bring attention to the allure of living there. These efforts usually do not require much funding, but, more importantly, buy-in from the government, business and economic development communities to understand the importance of looking toward the future and engaging youth.
Huston notes small towns are not your grandfather's towns anymore. While so many communities have been dependent on agriculture and manufacturing, those that only put their eggs in those baskets are finding their baskets are becoming empty.
Bardstown went through the transition of losing vital jobs and some of its brightest young people. Its leaders, after considerable study, decided to make another transformation -- one in which people don't just work for other people but work for themselves instead, taking control of their own futures and destinies.
The understanding that has emerged is that youth do not want to follow in the footsteps of their parents, working for someone else or for a large company on a manufacturing line all day. They want to be in control, have a say in their own futures, and to be innovative and progressive.
But how? How do they make this journey into a profession that has sparked more interest and discussion in the 21st century? How do they become entrepreneurs?
The bottom line: Youth want to be their own bosses, and they also want a life with fun and excitement. Like the baby boomers before them, they are looking for the American Dream -- maybe not in bell bottoms, but perhaps in business casual.
It is the job of community leaders to make their towns worth coming home to. It is important for people to know that the same businesses you can run in an office tower in big city America are the same businesses you can now run from Main Street USA.
You can obtain a copy of the report by contacting IIRA at the phone number below or from IIRA's website at www.iira.org/pubs/publications/IIRA_RRR_726.pdf.