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North Dakota Department of Commerce Main Street ND team members Carla Valentine, Holly Holt and Emily Brown, District 8 Representative Vern Laning, Regan Mayor Marvin Gillig, and Jamie Shurhamer stopped at the historic jailhouse during their tour of Regan prior to the listening session. (Annette Tait/Special to Agweek)

Where there's a will...

We can speak to having “will” – we both have a ton of it. Some call it determination, others say it’s stubbornness. Polite folks call it tenacity. Whatever name it goes by, it’s that quality that keeps a person going even when the going gets rough.

There’s a lot of will among the people of Regan, N.D., northeast of Bismarck. Roughly half the city’s population – 44 as of the 2016 census – turned out for a listening session guided by Main Street ND.

That’s an amazing turn-out for a public meeting these days. Generally, the only way to fill a meeting room is if people are opposed to something on the agenda.

In Regan’s case, people are opposed to their city fading into oblivion. Like so many other rural towns, Regan is struggling for its life. And its people wanted to hear more about an initiative geared toward gaining and maintaining vitality in rural communities like their own.

In its early days, Regan was a thriving town of about 300 that supported grocery stores, a bank, a gas station, several garages, and a Farmers Union Cooperative. It had a school system, sports teams, and the usual community activities.

That was before the decline of the railroads, improved highway systems, and “progress” in general changed the city of Regan and life throughout small-town America. People moved away, businesses closed and the schools consolidated.

What Regan didn’t lose over the years was its sense of community. Despite its tiny population and lack of local businesses, Regan pulled off a full-scale centennial celebration in 2012 with a parade, new signs, a commemorative monument and a weekend of public events.

And the people of Regan aren’t ready to give up now, either. That same will was in evidence during the listening session, designed to identify opportunities that already exist in the town and discuss challenges faced by its leaders and residents.

For a town of its size, Regan has plenty of positives – a rural water system, reliable internet service, an active volunteer firefighting crew, a welding business, an events center, a number of historic buildings, and attractive public areas.

What Regan doesn’t have is new blood. Nor does it have the housing and jobs needed to attract new residents. But that didn’t stop its inhabitants from reaching for their dream.

What will it take to bring new people to Regan? People who will step in to carry on volunteer services and encourage new vitality in the community?

Some great ideas came out of the crowd, including viable options that could fill a niche not just in Regan, but also draw people from the surrounding area. While none were quick fixes, funding, planning, and development resources exist to turn those dreams into realities.

The opportunities are out there, for Regan and small towns everywhere. There are people who want to live a rural lifestyle, who can work from home or run a business online, and who also want to be a part of a close-knit community where they feel they belong.

The resources are out there, too. There are grants and other funding options, and organizations that help rural cities identify and plan projects, then bring them to completion.

But the most important part is how you tell your story. Are you the tired train that can’t make it up the tracks, or “The Little Engine That Could”?

Focus on the positives, and work toward the big dreams. See how you want your community to look, then figure out how to make it happen.

We look forward to seeing how Regan tells its story and turns its dreams into reality.

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