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20 August, 2008 - Main Streets are Here to Stay

Guess what! This week I am not going to pick on anybody or anything. As a matter of fact, I am going to pay tribute to some communities in rural America that are thriving and doing well. I know we have seen the stories, three and four times a year, in the Wall Street Journal or the New York Times that are headlined.... “Main Street in Rural America is Dying or Dead; Drying Up and Blowing Away” and yes, that is the case in some rural communities, but not all of them. The inspiration for my comments come from a recent speaking appearance at Greensburg, Indiana, located southeast of Indianapolis.

I was there to address the Decatur County Community Foundation Ag Breakfast and heard an interesting story that applies to Indiana but could probably be applied to rural communities in other states as well. A corporate sponsor provided a matching grant fund to establish a Community Foundation in every county in Indiana back in 1992. The grant was about $2-million dollars matching funds and since then, local businesses as well as private citizens have grown the Decatur County Community Foundation fund to $16-million dollars, all the while using interest from the fund to improve schools, parks, libraries and police and fire departments in the county. It is administered by a Board of Directors, volunteer citizens from the community.

The reason for the Ag Breakfast was to recognize the importance of agriculture in the county and start a new $10,000 fund in the Foundation that will focus on agriculture. As it grows, interest from the new fund will perhaps pay for judging trips for FFA or 4-H teams, or college scholarships for farm kids wanting to further their education. The community spirit shown by the 300 people who attended the breakfast was infectious and real and accounts for the success of this community.

The Indiana visit reminded me of a trip a year ago to southwestern North Dakota to the community of Bowman, a town surrounded by cattle ranches and miles away from a major Interstate, all the ingredients of a town that should be drying up and blowing away. But it was doing anything but; the lady mayor and some of the citizens who took me on a tour of the town of 1,400 people were very proud of their new school, community hospital, museum, senior citizen care center and fire department with training facilities. I was impressed by the fact that nearly every public building was named after a local citizen who had made a substantial financial contribution, again showing pride in the rural community and a belief in its future.

These are just two of many stories I could share with you from rural communities I have visited over the years; towns whose citizens turn aside the purveyors of “doom and gloom” and say “We’re here, we’re alive and we’re thriving”. Hats off to you.

My thoughts on Samuelson Sez.