When the 'one-trick pony' runs away from rural communities
Small towns were often born from just one thing -- silver, the railroad, a water crossing -- a "one-trick pony" that attracted people who settled there. Most continued to evolve, but some didn't. And when there's only one business providing jobs ...
Small towns were often born from just one thing - silver, the railroad, a water crossing - a "one-trick pony" that attracted people who settled there. Most continued to evolve, but some didn't. And when there's only one business providing jobs and bolstering the economy, there's a lot riding on that one-trick pony's back.
So what do you do when that one-trick pony up and runs away?
You may not even see it coming. Like the scenery, new businesses come and integrate so fully it feels like they've always been there, sponsoring events, donating to schools, drawing new families and inspiring new business start-ups.
And then they leave. It may be the economy, changing conditions locally or a business decision at a higher level somewhere far away. Think railroads, elevators, manufacturing and call centers - big employers who contribute to the community. Until they don't anymore.
Take Cope, Colo., for example: It's not a large town to begin with, but it did have a grocery, cafe, fuel and a large elevator. That elevator employed nearly everybody who wasn't a farmer or rancher - until it sold to a very large company, with the promise it would remain open.
Guess what? As soon as the ink was dry, that well-known large company shut the doors just as fast you could snap your fingers, throwing nearly everyone out of work to boot. Yes - the knee-jerk reaction was panic.
What are we going to do? Where will we work? Will we have to move? How can the other businesses survive without the "El" and the people who worked there? Who's going to sponsor sports, our rural services and so much more?
It was tough going. Drivers who used to deliver to the El no longer ate at the cafe, fueled for the return trip or stopped at the grocery for snacks. The daily topic at the cafe and gas station became, "How long can we hang on?"
Fast forward a bit: Some crazy - read that "creative" - thinking and a CB radio started turning things around (this was "BCP," before cell phones). They let truckers on the interstate know they could find the best darn cinnamon rolls this side of the Rockies in Cope and offered a referral perk: a free meal for every five drivers who stopped and mentioned their name. The "little town that could" started picking up steam.
They identified every landmark within 100 miles and sent articles to every travel publication in the state. Someone took over an old run-down building on Main Street and transformed it into a gift shop, with all manner of handcrafted items, cards, balloons, gifts and other sundries. Before you knew it, there was a little video rental/pizza joint in the mix.
One thing led to another. They tried something - anything - no matter how far-fetched it seemed at the time.
Unfortunately for Cope, the folks who took those "crazy" risks aged, moved on or gave up the fight. We have to wonder - what might have happened if new blood had taken up the torch? And continued trying some of those hare-brained, but successful, ideas? The strategies they used are timeless - they took the best of an existing framework and added new twists to fit their own situation.
What do you have in your town, and what are the possibilities? Don't wait for the panic - now is the best time to secure your future.