With cases of Covid-19 reaching their heights in many rural places around the country, one must ask an important question. When we are out of this crisis, are we going to see more investment in rural communities?

Will we find out that the flight from urban centers finds its way not only to the suburbs and the smaller cities but to rural communities as well?

What role will local entrepreneurs play?

As a business person in rural Pennsylvania, this question is one that is weighing not only on myself, but on many of the other business owners I know and respect locally. With this general feeling of discouragement comes discussions about the possibilities of future lockdowns at the local barber shop or coffee shop. When this possibility is discussed, there is always a struggle to speak about a future lockdown. This is not a difficulty to discuss the topic of lockdowns itself, but more of a labored speech from the person speaking. Speech, hampered by the stress of the very thought of another round of lockdowns and the thought of whether or not their small family business will see it past 2021.

Migration

When it comes to investment, migration will certainly have a positive impact as more people move to rural areas to live and work. In a culture where working from home is rapidly being adopted and accepted by both employees and employers, we will see more people purchasing and building homes. With rural places tending to be older and with shrinking in populations (like my own), any amount of migration to rural places is going to do wonders for small town economies. Until we finally see how the business climate shakes out in the new year, all we can do is wait to see how great this impact will actually be. Will more city dwellers make the trade-off of moving to rural places where there are often fewer amenities but the cost of living is far lower?

On a completely anecdotal note, I can say that there are new homes being built in every residential development in my county. Developments that for years would see maybe one home a year built are now seeing 3 plus being built at a time. All of this construction in an effort to fend off the shortage of homes currently on the market.

Home Grown

No matter how large the boost from migration is to rural investment, the lion’s share of the new investment into small towns is going to come from local business owners. At the end of the day what is going to drive this investment is the sentiment among local business owners.

If local entrepreneurs believe that the future is too uncertain or that the returns on their investments will not be fruitful then they will not invest. What the future of rural communities is going to look like is going to come down to what wins the mental battle among local entrepreneurs, either optimism or pessimism. The current environment might be one filled with stress and uncertainty for local business owners, but today is not the norm and will not be the norm. At the end of the day, investing is a process which aims for returns in years to come and it seems that the future is more uncertain now than it has been in a some time.

There will be a day sooner then we know it when the Covid-19 crisis is behind us. The best local business owners can do is keep our eyes where they should be. At all times, our eyes should be on the future of our communities and participating in the growth of them.

For me, my greatest source of hope on the future of investment and growth in my local community was found in a meeting I had this past week with the head of our local chamber of commerce. During which, we had a good time catching up and we spoke about how I see my businesses growing over the next year and how the local chamber can be a partner in advertising campaigns and general marketing. What gave me hope in this meeting was when I asked her how large the decline in chamber membership has been in 2020? To my surprise, she stated quite plainly that so far this year they have lost about a dozen members, but that they have gained ten. So that for the year they are only in the red a handful of businesses. She also noted that some of the losses where not a direct result of the Covid-19 crisis but where the result of planned retirements on the part of local business owners.

Now I know that the over five hundred businesses that make up the local chamber of commerce in my small Pennsylvanian community are probably not a direct representation of how businesses are doing locally. However, as I work to end the year on a positive note with my own business I will cling to the feeling I left that meeting with. A sense of hope and new found awareness of the dynamism of my local economy that was finally on an upswing after years of stagnation prior to this crisis. All that is left to focus on is how myself and my business can be a part of this story, this upswing, and to encourage the other business owners locally to do the same.

P.S.

Thank you for giving this article a read. I pray you and your family are well and I hope you enjoy the coming holidays despite everything going on!

All opinions expressed are my own.

Economic insights for rural communities.