Today’s economic environment can be tough on communities of all types, but small micropolitan areas face particular challenges. They can be far removed from larger markets and may lack the scale and scope to spur economic growth. But, many smaller places are able to turn lemons into lemonade, and create thriving towns and regions. What the secret of their success? That’s the focus on an excellent new study sponsored by the Walton Foundation. Micropolitan Success Stories from the Heartland profiles five smaller communities that are thriving, with booming economies and an enviable quality of life. (The study includes case studies of Ardmore OK, Brookings SD, Findlay OH, Jasper IN, and Oxford, MS).
The study focused on what works in these communities, seeking commonalities found in successful places. First, it helps to be home to a major college or university. If you’re not so blessed, other strategies make a difference. These include a focus on nurturing local entrepreneurs, building a diverse base of local manufacturers, and hosting a sizable cluster of firms and workers in the professional and business services sectors. Successful places combine a diverse economic base with a distinctive sense of place. The authors’ final conclusions quote Shakespeare’s famous line of “to thine ownself be true.” Building on unique amenities and assets, and realistically assessing your strengths and weaknesses, are the real keys to successful community building.