Small towns are generally trying to figure out how to get and keep leadership, promote entrepreneurship, innovation, etc. Yet, all their “talent” leaves town and never really comes back to stay. No one really seems to ask why though, they just simply sit and wait for some new people to come by then pass the buck onto them, whoever they may be. Those of us in that position get frustrated and, well, leave too. Why?
Perhaps one thing for people in these small towns to consider is how (un)reliable they are; this even extends into life in university for those who leave but then come back. I say this regarding three entirely separate cases of small, rural towns that I have had to deal with and one consistent problem in all of them: communication. More specifically, the lack thereof.
For example: trying to contact one single individual through email, text messages and phone calls and still never getting any response after several days; this sort of culture is the antithesis to accomplishing anything or trying to make improvements which then limits these small towns, leads to frustration and moving away.
Another example: many times, when trying to put on an event of any sort, there is complaints of not many people coming or only the same people coming. One thing one never really sees online in any format or physically throughout the town is advertisements for different things. How is a newcomer or someone outside of the usual circle to know that there is a benefit dinner happening this Friday if it is not actually announced? I must say, it is pretty amazing how many people turn out for something if signs are put up everywhere a month in advance of the event, in my experience anyway. Also, the internet is a thing; small towns could leverage that a lot more than they generally do.
Next, some personal responsibility would help a lot. I mean this on an individual basis and a societal one for these small towns. Instead of simply complaining about how “the state/federal government does not send us any money to do x.” Try using the internet to find some grants for the project or, as is the case for older farming communities, recognize that money you are sitting on will not follow you to the grave and maybe spend some of it. In a less offensive word: recognize that in order to get something out of an investment, you usually have to put something into it too. Spend some time working on making the community a place you want to live, it will probably help convince other people to live there too. Also, maybe, just maybe, release some farm land for a new farmer to buy and use, perhaps consider that the world has changed even if it is not easily visible in these towns, it has. People want different things in life now and have different expectations and different types of jobs: figure out how to welcome those types of things and people may follow. Responsibility, if cultivated and supported for all citizens in the town would help, in all of these small towns there is a small cadre of movers-and-shakers who are, essentially, trying to drag the rest of the several hundreds or thousands along. That much effort for so few gains leads to burn-out, but, many hands makes light work, if you would take responsibility for your own community and for answering your phone and then carrying out whatever task you agree to, these small towns could make leaps and bounds.
These are just two of the major areas I have seen in my experience of small towns, it has been two of my own personal issues too partially stemming from growing up in such an environment. If small town leadership and small town individuals would start working on trying to improve these two spots, I think it would greatly improve their ability to get/keep younger people who are able to start changes and actually improving the region(s) they are in. But, this would take a level of commitment to self-improvement across individuals and the town; something not generally supported anymore in these areas.