Traverse City Record-Eagle

Business

April 2, 2014

Glenn Puit: Country towns can survive

There’s no future for you here.

You’ve probably heard it all before if you grew up in a community where corn fields, white-tailed deer and freight trains are more common than people. I believed the "no future" premise as I grew up in a rural community and, sadly, a lot of northern Michigan’s youth believe it, too. It’s a mindset drilled into our kids early on, accounting for the Grand Traverse region's reality of many youths fleeing for brighter economic pastures as soon as the graduation caps are flung skyward.

The result is a loss of talent, bright minds and, perhaps most importantly, economy.

“Our biggest export is our children,” Benzie County Commission Chair Don Tanner told me recently. “It’s a huge frustration of mine.”

He's not alone. But this isn't a column about how rural economies are doomed. It is instead a column of hope and one that recognizes communities like Kalkaska, Kingsley, Honor and Benzie County's decisions to take the right steps to change perceptions and mindsets.

Milan Wall, co-founder of the Heartland Center for Leadership Development in Lincoln, Neb., is a witness to rural communities succeeding. Wall said a critical step for the success of places like Thompsonville, Mancelona, Honor, and Kalkaska is to start by dispelling a trio of myths that almost always plague struggling small towns.

Myth # 1 -- There's no future here. Simply not true, said Wall, who knows countless young entrepreneurs who find a way to make money in small towns. Wall just met a young man in Brookfield, Mo., who Wall said is a "serial entrepreneur." The man obtained the rights to a sell a product that uses ozone to wash clothes in washing machines, earning him sales potential worldwide. Broadband, the Internet and mailing services present countless business opportunities for committed young entrepreneurs.

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