Compass: Small Town Revitalization

– [Voiceover] The following program is a production of Pioneer Public Television (slow music) (slow piano music) (upbeat music) – Hello and welcome to Compass, a weekly look at public affairs, issues in western Minnesota the eastern Dakotas and northwestern Iowa Wherever you live in our viewing area, we hope that you enjoy this program and that you’ll learn something every time we join you weekly here on Compass This week the story is small towns and their survival Some of those people wonder why do some small towns make it and others don’t and others grow and others fail It’s a difficult issue and there are lots of answers We’re just gonna touch on some of them today And we’ll look at some of the issues involved in one Minnesota town, here’s Pioneer’s Laura Kay Prosser – I grew up in this area when I was young And then I went to the cities for 15 years And retired down there and moved back here And I’ve always loved this town And when I came back, there were very few businesses open on Main Street And it was so sad because it used to be a real bustling town At one time we had three grocery stores And we had about three restaurants And we had implement dealers And we had a drug store And it was a really busy town – [Voiceover] The lack of businesses became a challenge for Muriel Krusemark As she began to redefine her place in her home town community once again – I just was obsessed with trying to fill the businesses on Main Street, the empty buildings To see empty buildings with paper on the windows or cracked windows is really pretty sad There were like four empty buildings on Main Street All together and it really looked empty And those were the ones that we worked on first – [Voiceover] Krusemark went to the businesses of the community as well as the community members themselves And asked what could she do to help them What did they need? – The things that came up: a hardware store and the healthcare mall They were the top two priorities And so the first building that we filled, or that we worked on was the healthcare mall There was a grant came across my desk in like, December, and it was from Prime West of Alexandria – [Voiceover] The grant was for $86,000 With a stipulation of having a healthcare system in place for the next five years If they lasted five years, the grant would never have to be repaid – We had just simple things to start with Before we knew it, the medical center asked if they could come in So Prairie Ridge out of Elbow Lake moved in Now we have a physical therapist that has increased his hours He’s here three days a week We have a chiropractor that’s here two days every week So it is totally full right now – [Voiceover] With one business taken care of, Muriel looked to other towns to see what they were doing Wadena’s incubator mall was one of her next inspirations It led to the creation of Hoffman’s own incubator mall, The Main Street Galleria – We started out, we just kinda went out and got people And we put in Main Street Galleria Which now houses about between 30 and 40 small businesses There is just all kinds of different crafty things And the rent is very reasonable in there And so people at least can come out with a little bit of funds – [Voiceover] Businesses are all great and good for towns But what kind of challenges do they see in a small town like Hoffman who’s main street is off the beaten path? – People don’t think about it Think that if you have taxes on your house for $500, the taxes on businesses in Hoffman are $1500 for that same value And people don’t realize that if you don’t support those businesses and they go away, who’s gonna pick up that tax base? It’s gonna be the homeowners – [Voiceover] Krusemark’s end game is to promote her home town and get it bustling again From a farmers market to a food shelf Even an apartment complex made from the empty school building No need is too small to incorporate into the town’s future plans – We do anything we can to make it easier or more pleasant to live here If you don’t have a hardware store and you don’t have a grocery store and you don’t have the basic needs places, it’s really difficult to keep your people here You almost have to think more service than retail in a small town Because the services can survive but the retail it’s tough

It takes a lot of people for a retail to survive (upbeat music) – With us now are some folks who know a little bit about small towns or even a lot about small towns because they’ve worked in them worked with them for the extension service and other capacities So, ladies and gentlemen, thanks for coming Ryan Pesch, you’re with the extension service – Yeah – [Les] Have been for quite some time? – Yep, 12 years running now So I’m an extension educator and community economic development – And Cindy Bigger, you were with the extension service Now we call you consultant, right? – Yes, yes I’m retired partially and now kinda do my own thing – Cool And I’ve known both of you from other committees and things we’ve worked in We should mention for full disclosure, Cindy’s also kind enough to chair the Pioneer Community advisory board here at Pioneer So you get to look at communities from a lot of different angles – Yeah, yeah It’s kinda nice to have all that input and hear what’s going on around our region – Yeah and I know you’ve worked with counties and you’ve worked with schools You’ve worked with cities so you’ve seen this from a lot of different angles And of course, the story that we saw was about Hoffman – Yeah – So tell us more about that as an example of why some communities work Let’s talk about that – You want to start or should I? – Go ahead – Oh Hoffman is unique in that Not unique to small towns But unique in that where it’s positioned Where it is located And that I think Hoffman was creative enough and smart enough to take a look at themselves and say, “What can we be given all the factors that come “to bear on a small community?” They didn’t look for the big manufacturer to save them You know, so that there’s all these people and jobs But they got creative A little town of Hoffman one year built 10 homes 10 homes in a tiny little town is a lot of homes So how did they do that? And could other communities do that? And how did they get them there? And how’d they help them? I think community leaders have to be creative and courageous – Yes and Ryan I want to bring you into the conversation here because I should have mentioned that you’re part of the University of Minnesota Community Economics team so you deal with this on many different levels Cindy mentioned creativity So there’s creativity There’s understanding the finances What do you think about a community like Hoffman or other communities? Is it creativity? Is it economics? Is it all of it? What do you think? – Well I think Cindy set us up pretty well on it She’s talking about there’s many forces that are at play on all our small communities Some of these are very structural, right? A lot of times we focus on these Main Street issues You got a lot of communities with underutilized or vacant buildings And people are like, “Oh my goodness, what are we gonna do?” Well there’s a hundred years of history that is bearing down on those communities That regionalization that we’ve seen in terms of retailing and services has been going on for a very long time So it’s very difficult for one small community to push up against that And I completely agree with Cindy that the point is not so much to say, “Okay we’re stuck, “we’re boxed into this corner “How do we box ourselves out of this corner? “And go against the laws of gravity, if you will.” But instead say, “What are those tangible things “that we can do in our community?” Let’s start with what’s an asset in our community What’s working well in our community I think in Hoffman they said there are folks that are working in the nearby Alexandria That are younger people are new in our community How do we reach out to them? And you know what they need? They maybe need some housing So you might not be able to recreate your economy Sometimes people get worked into these really big things But they say, “You know what? “What is it with that event that we’ve doing for 50 years “that’s kind of fallen on hard times? “And it’s not energizing or engaging people anymore? “That’s something we can change.” You know there are a few new businesses or small businesses that started How can we support those few small businesses? Or how can we look at the businesses that are already here? And just say, “What are two or three things that the “community could do as a whole that could improve it?” So I think those ones, Cindy used creativity I use the word tangible What are those things that those leaders and people can do that are tangible in their communities? So once you get something going on some of those tangible issues, bigger things canfollow – So it sounds like it’s really two things as I think about Hoffman and other communities And I know we talked about during the break and other times Sounds like it’s a matter of understanding needs and strengths The needs which maybe go well beyond the community to a broader community, such as housing or the area But then also the strengths that the community has Either in terms of location or human resources or buildings

Is it really needs and strengths that both seem to be there in most of these cases? – Yeah and I think communities focus on assets What makes us who we are? And they focus on those And that tangible thing as he was talking about What can community people see happening? You can put all the infrastructure you want underground and spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to do it And nobody sees it They know it’s there But that doesn’t help the whole community see something that’s happening and spark all that, “What’s the next thing we can do?” On the other hand, I’m not going to belittle the infrastructure issues in our small communities Oh man we have needs in that capacity The problem is that it’s very expensive and how do these small towns with not huge populations pay for them? We’ve been talking about that for a number of years now and how do communities do that I believe that if people are looking at their community and saying, “God, it’s just not rocking “It’s just not moving the way we want it to.” I do think there is a way to say, “What’s going on “over here and why are they and why aren’t we.” Somebody said, “Well you know we have the seniors “and the elders in our community and they want it “the way it was.” And I get that and I understand that Because that was very wonderful for them But that’s not the reality right now So what can communities do change their reality somewhat and get people thinking a little differently And boy, things are different now – Well and there’s been a lot of attention paid to the needs Right? I mean there’s been – [Cindy] A lot of focus on needs – When we here these discussions it’s about the needs It could be housing, it could be infrastructure it could be sewer, water, could be water quality issues Could be transportation Could be any number of things But it’s the solutions that tend to be much more of a difficult challenge And part of what you’re here saying is that in some ways nostalgia is a lousy business plan – Yes it is – Yeah it is – I mean its a lot of fun You can really enjoy it But unless you’re going to turn it into some sort of a, and there are examples around the country of places that sort of go, let’s just say, go cute right? I mean they do sort of an interesting period kind of down town and they go down that road But that’s nostalgia Or the idea of nostalgia as a business plan But not for the idea that well it should be the way it was because that’s not realistic – No – One thing I always think is that there is real strength in stories And often times there are communities that are somewhat stuck In part because their leadership The stories they always tell themselves are but what we once were And so as they tell themselves that story over and over and over again, there’s a lot of community psychology to this kind of stuff Like how do you turn around a community? You have to change the psychology to a large degree Both in the leadership as well as just show people that live in the town And so if the leadership are always saying, “This is what we once were”, “Wasn’t it great when…” it really devalues some things that people are trying to do right now And so if you want to, if you feel your town is a failure, you can reinforce it again and again and again by telling stories about how much you fail It’s important to say, “Let’s step back, let’s try to “turn this around a little bit.’ And one of the best ways you can do that we were both talking about tangible things It might not be a big thing now There are these huge issues and what people can do is they get into the deer in the headlights look, right? I mean, millions of dollars in infrastructure How are we going to deal with that? Well it’s hard to begin dealing with those unless you’re able to get some kind of success and some kind of movement that engages people And often times those are small projects Those are small Main Street projects They’re small business development projects Might be a mentoring program – Give me an example A small Main Street project Let’s talk some specifics What are the kinds of things those would be? – Well for example one thing that we often do in communities is we do what’s called business retention expansion effort – [Les] Sure, BRE – BR and E’s Let’s instead of talking about what we think all the issues are, let’s actually engage the business owners who aren’t always part of the conversation and say, “What are your issues? “And where do you think you’re gonna be in the next “three to five years? “And what are some things that you’re struggling with “that could use some help?” One thing we see in a lot of small towns is an issue about succession planning, right? There are a lot of baby boomers in the next three to five years, over the next 10 years moving to retirement If you have issues of vacancy in your community now, you’re gonna have bigger issues later on So for example, let’s just host a workshop Let’s get a lawyer in there, let’s get an accountant, people that know about transition planning, finance people that can help these folks in a workshop format or one on one to say, “How can we retain your business in this community?” And the only that you’re gonna do that is by connecting them to some kind of resource so that they can do

a viable transition – Your talking about bringing people in And we haven’t really touched on this yet But obviously in the story of Hoffman for example, I’ve heard this for years from other people that Muriel Krusemark, as an example of a can-do sort of person in a community – Yeah – So let’s talk about people Cause that’s often one of the toughest things is what are the attitudes of the people, are they the right people, and do they have the people who are smart enough and willing enough to sort of plow through whatever they see Let’s talk about people examples – Well I look at a person like Muriel Do you know how many roadblocks she has hit? And she just kept going And I have always called her the energizer bunny I think everybody does She said, “Well that didn’t work, what’s next? “What can we do?” It’s that not giving up It’s sharing your enthusiasm for your community It’s having a community event A extension director in Dakota County once told me, he says, “Yeah, I’m going over to those new “countries that came out of the old Soviet block.” And I said, “So what are you going to do with them?” He says, “The first that we’re gonna do is we’re gonna do “a community celebration to get everybody there.” I said, “You’re gonna do a county fair?” Just as people around here are going, “Our county fairs are struggling and what are we “gonna do with them?” Or “Our community festival just doesn’t bring people in “How are we gonna do that?” When you go to these new countries, that’s the first thing they do So if you’re struggling, how do we think about it differently? How do we revamp it? How do we focus on what we do well? I mean, you can have a pickle festival and they might come And you can have, I’m not sure what Hoffman’s festival is But I think they have one But one of their community events came on Wednesdays They had their farmers market And someone made food And little kids started selling cookies and kool-aid And it got to be every Wednesday, a community dinner You engage community and you talk about what’s next – Right, right I think that’s what you’re setting out what’s next What’s the vision? – [Cindy] What can we do? – What can we do in a tangible way But it does take definitely some determination It doesn’t need to be one person Sometimes we call this the charismatic leader That just sorta charges out front and pulls everyone along But determined enough Because often times what we see in communities a lot of people have conversations about what we should do We don’t have any issue about having conversations about what should be done in this town There’s a lot of those conversations that happen in this town It’s just that often times when an idea gets out there, it lives in this netherworld where it’s like, maybe someone else should do that Or I’m not gonna do that Or I could take a piece of that It’s helpful when you have a person that says, “Look, we’ve talked about doing this “We want to make this a success “I know what you can do to help in this effort “Can you do this?” And it’s that direct ask It’s straight up project development stuff It needs a chairperson that makes it happen – I like to call that person a champion The cheerleader – Sure – And then get people to say yes – And often that happens And does that often happen in group settings where you’ve either got a group that is a structured civic group or just a group of citizens that get together on a regular basis? Cause it strikes me as I see some of these towns that there are these small groups where things seem to happen They get together, they talk about the ideas So let’s talk about groups Is that a fairly common element that you see that there’s a group of people who get together informally or formally and then they help to really drive these things? – It varies, actually I think it has to do with the culture of your community and maybe how it’s been done in the past Now, granted, that’s not always the right way to look at it But I think some of these things bubble up when you get a bunch of moms together with their little ones Or you get the old guys at coffee every, you know, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday morning Things happen there I did some work in a community in central Minnesota And I said well, they say, “Well you need to meet with some groups.” Okay, I’d be glad to meet with some groups They said, “Well the first one that you have to do is “go to coffee at Burger King.” I said, “Who’s there?” “Everybody that has to say ‘yes’ in town.” (laughter) Communities have a culture And those were the gatekeepers And if they liked you and you could drink coffee with them and tell a funny joke and tell them you grew up on a farm, which I could, and all that, then you were okay Then we’ll listen I know that sounds weird, but it’s true You need to find who can be your champion and who can support that and the ask is really important – The ask is important One of the other pieces too, when you talked about the people in town that you had to ask We haven’t talked yet about millennials Because, okay, there is a lot of this discussion and you mentioned earlier, Cindy, that people might say, “Well, gee, we’ve always done it this way “We like it this way and this is how it is.” And then there’s this other issue of well,

why can’t we get young people in the town, why won’t they stay, why won’t they move And so there’s often opposing forces here But what are we hearing about what towns need to do to really attract millennials? Because much of it seems to fly in the face of traditional economic development strategies Which was build a plant and you get the young workers here And that’s not necessarily the way the current economy shakes up, right? – Right, absolutely I mean we’re kind of in this, we’re more in the business of attracting people today than we are attracting businesses – [Les] In other words, your attracting millennials to come in because you create an environment, they want to live there and then they will bring the jobs or invent the jobs when they get there, right? – Right – And I think that communities have to have the technology available for the millennials They aren’t gonna go to a place that doesn’t have broadband or, I don’t even know what all those words are, that bring the structure, infrastructure for technology into a community For a younger population, you must have that Must – Yeah, I mean, I think technology is absolutely important But I think there’s a, if you think about the, how people, say, work differently in today’s age There’s a great deal more openness and fluidity in terms of both work and life And, you know, all the research that we’ve had from extension, other research that you see about what attracts people to give them places really shows that what drives people to communities they are quality of life indicators, right? And as talked about before, it kind of remains to be seen right now whether millennials will be attracted to rural and small communities We’ve seen this with past research And essentially, right now we have this big baby boom We have myself, I’m a generation X, I’m kind of in the trough Right? And then there’s this, the baby boomlets and the millennials that are coming afterwards We’ve seen it with my generation and generations previously That people in those prime earning years move toward small communities for quality of life issues They’re not moving there for jobs They’re moving there because they want a safe location They want– – [Cindy] Raise their kids – raise their kids They want a good education system A place that they can fit in And so we’re at this place now where millennials as they begin having children and moving into families, will be making those decisions – The sort of things that in urban settings, in many cases, it was okay Kids are are about ready into grade school, gonna move from the starter house in the city to the suburb because of a school district desire So I mean, it’s a comparable kind of move, just to a different place, right? – Right, right And really if you think about the fluidity of work and life nowadays, I really do think that those communities that are most open, most rural communities that are open, and have that fluidity, those are the most creative places, interesting places, beautiful places Those are the ones that stand the greatest chance of attracting these millennials So I think for us that are in small communities it’s about, not about revamping our entire community But it’s about understanding that mindset And as opposed to kind of locked in the past Thinking about how we could be more creative and dynamic communities Cause I think those are the ones that are most apt to attract millennials into the future – Sure We’ve only got a couple minutes left So I want to talk a bit about tools You mentioned that where people as they look at these issues, and they get, energized, tools to look at it Obviously, you mentioned research, the university extension service, people who go to the university extension service website, right? Dig around, find tools there Business retention and expansion Or BRE, there’s information there What are some other resources people can draw in? – One of the things that research has said is that if you can have leaders in your community, build leaders, economic development will follow So we have in rural Minnesota, we have many communities that do leadership programs This happens to be my niche and I love it So I’m kinda of a thing for that But the research says if you can grow your leaders, economic development will follow So the other thing is the ask I really think you need to find people of all different generations and ask them Why do you live here? Why do you stay here? Why did you come here? When I worked in Pope County, the grandparents said, “Can’t we get a website up “that says ‘bring them home’? “I want my grandkids and my kids to live here “There are jobs.” You know, so– – That’s a good note to end on And I want to mention too that, of course, viewers could also go to pioneer.org, our website We did a show a couple years ago called Keys to the City, Seven and a Half Keys to Success in Small Towns with Jack Schultz That’s available on our website as well as many other resources as well So, and if you missed any of this program and would like to watch it, please go onto pioneer.org You can watch our videos online Lots to watch there And of course, if you have any questions or suggestions,

go to our website as well at yourtv.org And I’d like to thank Ryan Pesch and Cindy Bigger for coming in for a great discussion about small towns – Thanks for having us Very short – Happy to be here – [Les] Thank you Join us next week on Compass Thanks (slow music)