Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Northern Winter or Not

Well, Christmas came and went, but my husband will may never be the same again. Santa brought him a chainsaw. (Thanks, Santa, said the wife who doesn't know first aid.) Guess what class I will be taking next? Maybe we will have our own tractor by next year!

We still can't decide if it is really winter here in the north. It looks like all the snow is falling in the south this year. Not that I am complaining, because it makes us all hopeful of avoiding another spring flood. Honestly, I just do not think we are up to it.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Back in Town

Well, we did it again. That is we moved back to a rural community after spending a couple of years in the busy places. It has been an interesting adjustment. We are actually living in the country now, almost twenty miles from a restaurant, grocery store or gas station. Our town is a little bigger than a bread box and somewhat smaller than my extended family. The current affair is the state of the post office: will it go or will it stay?

A lot of our neighbors have tractors. Here is our nearest neighbor; he is a collector of all old tractors. A lot of our new neighbors also have chain saws and rifles and 4x4s and dogs. We have a lot to learn in our little corner of the world. Next week a tree guy is coming to chop the dead one down which we will be using for firewood in the garage and house.

Our new life feels a little like a story book and I do hope the ending will be a good one...snow is on the way, dontcha know.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Developing Rural Industry

I've heard Jack speak, read his book "Boomtown USA: The 7 1/2 Keys to Big Success in Small Towns" and followed his blog for several years now. It's nice to see an advocate for small towns.

Press Release

Jack Schultz, founder and CEO of Agracel, Inc., a company specializing in rural industrial development, was recently invited to speak at the National Lieutenant Governors Association's Winter Meeting in Washington D.C. on March 13, 2008. The session is entitled "Making Rural Areas Competitive and Viable". Mr. Schultz' message of small town success stems from his extensive research that led to the publishing of his book, Boomtown USA: The 7 ½ Keys to Big Success in Small Towns. Since publishing the book, Jack has been invited to speak in over 300 communities across the U.S. in 44 states. The NLGA Winter Meeting will include nearly 100 guests, including lieutenant governors, staff and lobbyists.

This invitation comes on the heels of a keynote address Mr. Schultz conducted for the State Agriculture and Rural Leaders (SARL) Summit held in
St. Louis on January 19, 2008. Members of SARL represent the leadership of state House and Senate legislative committees that oversee agriculture and rural development. Jack's message offered examples of community successes, and encouraged those present to continue economic development efforts in their home state. Invited guests included agriculture and rural development leaders from 48 states, 5 Canadian Provinces and 3 US territories.

For more information about Jack Schultz, Agracel and Boomtown USA, visit www.agracel.com and www.boomtowninstitute.com, or call

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

We, The Power

Well, the snow is gone mostly and everyone is getting out and about. Today was a big day—the Electric Co-op Annual Meeting was held at the new high school. I’ve never been to an Annual meeting of a co-op. In fact, I didn’t know that much about co-op’s until I moved to more rural places.

A co-op is a member owned organization. Yes, we the people who use and pay for the electricity actually own the company. What a concept. So of course we are interested in what they’re doing, how they’re doing it and how much money they will be using.

There were around 750 of us—509 members and some guests. We listened to the talented teen singers, took a tour of the biomass boiler that is now saving the school $100,000 a year in heating costs, ate great rolls provided by a local baker and filled the gym to find out how we’re doing.

For a rural place, we are quite progressive. Take the biomass boiler for example. The boiler uses scrap wood that comes from cleaning the forest. The same wood that becomes a huge fuel issue when the forest catches on fire. Dead trees, buggy trees and the like are chipped and hauled to the school where they become feed for the boiler. The fire burns so hot that it leaves minimal ash and little particulate matter so with filtering it is a very a clean burn.

The total project cost was around $500,000 so with a $240,000 ‘Fuels to Schools’ grant the school saved a big chunk of change. One passionate bystander let us know that even with the use of 45 tons of fuel a year, the school would only be keeping 15-20 acres clean. So, we need more schools in the mountains to get their biomass generator projects going…there’s still grant money I’ve been told.

The rest of the meeting was also interesting. We are aggressively pursuing alternative energy sources in our mountains. The Co-op just put up the first net-metering project for someone who built a solar panel array on his house. Now he’s selling electricity back to the company. Wow. The last small town where we even talked about net metering we were darn near run out of town. “We will never put electricity back on the wire!” they said, somewhat heatedly.

It’s nice to live in a place that is not only beautiful, but smart too.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Ready Set Go!

Urban centers cannot compete with the sanity of small town living. Of course there are some odd, shall we say unique, life styles. For instance, our valley is a tourism magnet...in the summer. So in the winter we have many businesses that simply close and the owners head south. ( I assume they are running some warm weather shop for the other 6 months.)
The locals hunker down until the snow melts and then the civic festivities begin. Rounds and rounds of meetings, luncheons, fund-raisers, events...everything it takes a metropolis 12 months to accomplish we will achieve between now and when winter arrives again. Whew, off to take my vitamins.
Here's an article I found on a business fair for home-based businesses. What a great idea. I think this would be a wonderful way for small towns to celebrate this sector of their businesses.

Bearspaw small biz’s to strut their stuff

Friday, December 14, 2007

People Matter Most

People matter most in places where they are scarce, places where the animals can outnumber the residents. Everything is about relationships. The other day I heard someone say that business comes first and relationships come second. Let me tell you a story about how this works in small towns I have known…

In small towns you do not hire someone for a job or service. You meet and greet, building relationships in the café, the grocery store, the gas station, and church until you need your car fixed. If the mechanic likes you, has heard good things about you and if you can tell him the name of someone local who referred you, then he may interview you. It is also important to remember the name of the person who told you about ‘Fred the best mechanic who works out of his own garage’ or he may not even talk to you.

When you call Fred, and it is really much better if you go down and meet him face to face, first tell him that Maggie at the café told you to call. Then you tell him who you are, with reference to why you are in town i.e. “I’m the new schoolteacher.” After which he will say, “Oh, that’s Sally’s old job. They moved out to the City when John died.” You commiserate for a moment on the loss of John and another family leaving town because caring about others really is important.

Let me repeat, you are not hiring a service in a small town as you do in the urban jungle. You are building an important connection with your neighbors. You are asking for a favor, and if he has time and likes you, Fred will confer it. This is customer101 for becoming a good neighbor and getting good service in small towns.

At first it seemed backwards to me. The grocery clerk acted put out, like he was doing me a favor, when I would ask to see the weekly ad sheet. (They hide stacks of them under their counters instead of taping them to the windows or littering the aisles with them, where I was trained to look for ads.) I finally quit asking because if you ask too many favors you become a nuisance and people start saying bad things about you at the café.

“But I shouldn’t have to ask,” you whine, “they should want me to see it and buy more.” Ah, well, yes in the land of aggressive business, that is the only truth, but in a land where relationships are the most important value, it is an annoyance. So when you are finding your small place, make new friends and shop friendly.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Small Town Culture

Small Town culture shock is inevitable when an urban dweller moves to a rural place. Think about what it means to know every single person in the phone book.

As a new economic developer in a town of 800, I had a project that required assessing the technology resources of County residents. The methodology: Ask the locals. Folks in the coffee shop went through the phone book and gave me the names of all their friends and family members who had computers at home. What does it feel like to have lived in one place so long that you know every resident in the County, as well as their pets and favorite hobbies? I learned a lot that day.

It also came as a shock to find there was extraordinary curiosity about my activities. I’m not that interesting, but every time I walked outside to weed my yard, wash my car or take a walk…there they were. The neighbors. Asking questions. Chatting up a storm. The social fabric of the community was being woven in my own front yard. I still remember the week people kept asking how my dandelion wine was coming along. I don’t drink. I’ve never made wine. But someone saw me pulling weeds—rather than using the ubiquitous Round-Up spray bottle that I was taught not to touch—and assumed that, of course, I was making wine.

Another shock. Many of my new friends didn’t know where their house keys were. They hadn’t used them in years. Maybe never. A lot of my neighbors didn’t use locks. Never locking the house. Never locking the car. I was told the house had to be open in winter in case someone came by and needed to get warm. They said they left the garage and barns open in case someone needed to borrow a tool. Cars were left unlocked because the heater or air conditioner was left running during trips to the post office or grocery store.
What a change from my urban experience. What a relief it was to relax into the rhythm of life on the prairie.