Throughout my travels both within and beyond the US, I have experienced people, cultures and places that are unique and interesting, flawed yet astonishing. Since graduating college and moving to the truly rural Midwest (sorry Pierre and Sioux Falls), however, I have experienced some of the most difficult and rewarding lessons on culture yet.
In February of 2018, I threw my five year plans out the window to move to Hettinger to serve as the Executive Director of the community’s Chamber of Commerce and economic development corporation. With no training and little formal experience, taking on my position was tough. Even tougher was adjusting to the quirks of life in the small town of Hettinger.
In my short time in Hettinger, I’ve learned that the community’s culture can be described as fiercely proud. But in the face of an aging population, the out-migration of youth, and the rise of e-commerce, I’ve realized that this community is equally afraid for the future of their community. Empty store fronts. A declining population. Aging infrastructure. Lack of recreational opportunities. A workforce shortage. These are the things that plague our community. The more I connect with other economic and community developers from across the state and region, however, the more I realize that economic development conferences are made not only for collaboration and idea sharing, but also commiseration and moral support. The same challenges that plague Hettinger are stamped liberally across the rural Midwest. Because of these challenges, more and more, rural is being defined as a liability rather than an asset.
But despite the challenges that afflict my new rural home, as an outsider, I have had the immense joy of unraveling this idea that rural is a liability. I have met rural movers and shakers who refuse to accept less than the vibrant community they deserve. I have worked with youth with the courage to not just accept their community as the hometown they will one day leave, but rather to provoke progress toward the hometown they will one day lead.
After nearly two years of learning from and leading alongside these community champions, I am witnessing an electrifying shift in the way Hettinger is not only anticipating with uncertainty, but instead creating its future. If you’re interested in more of my observations regarding my journey toward “Realizing Rural,” stop by my office, give me a call (701-567-2531), shoot me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org), or visit my website (realizingrural.com).
I’m proud of my community, and I’m grateful for the change-makers and champions who are working tireless to revitalize our rural home. Together we’re shifting the rural narrative from surviving to thriving.
Oct. 14th Wired at 5:30pm at the Peacock Mercantile
Oct. 16th Adulting 101 at 7:00pm at the Hettinger Research Extension Center
Nov. 7th Lunch & Learn at 12:00pm: Banking & Your Business with John Hausauer (Dacotah Bank) at the Community Promotions Office
Nov. 11th Wired at 5:30pm at the Peacock Mercantile
Nov. 29th Wake Up Santa Celebration
Dec. 5th Lunch & Learn at 12:00pm: The Travel Bug: Good for You & Your Business with Hannah Nordby (Adams Co. Extension Agent) at the Community Promotions Office