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Survey of Rural Challenges 2019 results

By Jason Freely / a few months ago
Survey of Rural Challenges 2019 results

What small town people see as their biggest challenges

And what topics rural people most want help with

Wouldn’t it be great if the people who say they want to help rural people would actually listen to rural people’s own challenges?! That’s why we created this survey!

We use the results to create practical steps that help you shape a better future for your town. Your responses also get shared out to others who work with rural communities through articles and media stories.

Using these survey results, we developed a free video of action steps you can take to shape the future of your town or the towns you serve.

Get the Action Steps Video

The survey asks rural people what challenges they most want help with and what actions they are taking to address them. The results don’t match the common themes in media coverage and policy conversation around rural communities.

  • Are rural people focused on well-publicized crises like opioid addiction or poverty? No, other challenges were selected much more often. Crime and drug abuse ranked in the bottom five of the standard choices. In their own words, fewer than a dozen people each mentioned drug abuse or poverty. Three times as many mentioned negative or angry people as a top challenge they’d like help with. 
  • Are most rural communities devastated by lost factories, closing mines or damaging natural disasters? No, “our town has suffered a terrible blow” remains one of the least chosen options on all three rounds of the survey in 2015, 2017 and 2019. 
  • Is the lack of small business lending a big challenge in small towns? Needing a business loan did not made it into the list of top 5 challenges chosen. More than twice as many people selected the lack of good employees as a challenge.  

Top five concerns at the community-wide level this year are very similar to the results from 2017 and 2015.

  1. Losing young people
  2. Downtown is dead
  3. Not enough good housing
  4. Need new residents
  5. No one shops in town

“Losing young people” and “Downtown is dead” have dominated the top 2 spots in 2015, 2017 and 2019. “Not enough good housing” is a new entry that wasn’t included as a choice in the 2017 or 2015 surveys. “No one shops in town” also appears in the top 5 in all three rounds of the survey.

Here is a graph of all the choices offered on the 2019 survey ranked in order of how often people chose them. (Click to see it larger)

Almost ½ of those surveyed identified themselves as current or prospective small business owners. Here are the top five challenges they chose.

  1. Can’t find good employees
  2. Marketing isn’t working
  3. People buy from online competitors
  4. Tried opening later hours without success
  5. Need a business idea

A new choice, “Can’t find good employees” was chosen by over 50% of respondents making it the number one challenge. It replaced a previous choice, “Need help but cannot hire,” in the top 5.

“Marketing isn’t working” has been consistently in the second spot, and “Opening later hours without success” remains in the top 5 on all three surveys. Online competition moved up to 3rd this year from 6th in 2017 and 2015. Needing a business idea returned to the top 5 after dropping to 9th in 2017.

Here is a graph of all the choices offered on the 2019 survey ranked in order of how often people chose them. (Click to see it larger)

Which of these rural business challenges would you be excited if we talked about them? Choose as many as you would be thrilled to learn more about. Responses: Can't find good employees 53%. Marketing isn't working 31%. Online competitors 25%. Later hours not working 23%. Need a business idea 23%. Can't get a loan 22%. Need a usable building 22%. Need to sell business 18%. Juggling multiple businesses 16%. Hate business plans 14%. Hate doing accounting 13%.

A new question in 2019 asked people what they or their community are trying to address their challenges. The four choices ranked in this order.

  1. Traditional economic development groups
  2. Informal idea copying
  3. Formal programs
  4. Other things

Traditional economic development was the clear top choice with over 75%, and informal copying of ideas was chosen in over 50% of the responses.

When offered the opportunity to share more in their own words about challenges, what is working, or anything else, 389 people shared more. Their responses can be grouped into these general categories with both positive and negative themed responses.

  1. Government, leadership or officials
  2. Business and economy issues
  3. Community teamwork, volunteers and engagement
  4. Non-government programs such as Main Street, Chamber of Commerce and many others
  5. Workforce, employees or jobs

Here are some of the individual responses.

  • Team work is what is working and working best. What isn’t working is thinking that the money pool is the [economic development group] or Chamber [of Commerce]
  • There is a group of us that are willing to try new things and looking for ideas. There are some in town who are stuck in the old way of doing things. We are starting small and I think the big will come. With each idea, it seems like more ideas are starting to happen.
  • The empty building tour worked well. We will be planning another one for the Fall. Getting everyone working together is not working well.
  • After losing some major employers, some people have opened businesses, also some spin-offs related to remaining businesses. Landing the “big one”, outside employer, has not been successful.
  • A group of progressive minded “young” (30 to 55) leaders have joined together to celebrate what is right about our community and to make some fun things happen.

Each community is different, and different people from within a single community can see the challenges and opportunities differently.

How diverse were survey respondents? An open-ended question invited people to say if there were ways they considered themselves diverse, and 278 people chose to answer. Some answered with their own personal diversity, but most answered about their community at large.

More rated their communities as diverse than not

Over fifty percent more people said their communities were diverse than the number of people who said their communities were not diverse. Over 70 people said their community was diverse now or increasingly diverse. Another 43 responded with average or not sure; and 42 said no, not diverse or not applicable.

The top 5 most common descriptive answers were grouped into these rough categories.

  1. Color, race, ethnicity or cultural origin
  2. Age
  3. Education, skills or technology use
  4. Businesses, professions or commerce
  5. Cultures, ideas and ways of thinking

The grouping of cultures and ways of thinking includes common perspective divides such as new vs. longtime residents, farm vs. town, city/urban vs. rural/small town, and full time vs. part time residents.

Gender spectrum and LGBTQIA diversity featured in over 50 of the responses. Diversity in income or class, disability, family makeup, religion, political views and military service were also mentioned.

Deb Brown and Becky McCray, co-founders of Save Your dot Town

Using these survey results, Becky McCray and Deb Brown developed a special video of action steps you can take to shape the future of your town or the towns you serve. There is no charge.

Get the Action Steps Video


Press and Media Information

You’ll find more information on the methodology, talking points for media and links to prior surveys at our Survey page.

New to SmallBizSurvival.com? Take the Guided Tour. Like what you see? Get our updates.

About Becky McCray

Becky started Small Biz Survival in 2006 to share rural business and community building stories and ideas with other small town business people. She and her husband have a small cattle ranch and are lifelong entrepreneurs. Becky is an international speaker on small business and rural topics.

  • Survey of Rural Challenges 2019 results – December 5, 2019
  • Shop Indie Local adds a new twist to tired Buy Local campaigns – November 11, 2019
  • Better entrepreneur training for small towns – November 4, 2019
  • Culture is the intersection of people and place – August 19, 2019
  • For easier social media marketing, fill in the blank – August 5, 2019
  • Need a downtown business idea? Try a Cookie Crawl – July 22, 2019
  • Need funding for the next step in your business? – July 17, 2019
  • Youth business idea: phone clinics – July 8, 2019
  • Chain link is everywhere in downtowns. Here’s how to dress it up. – June 30, 2019
  • Stop using “3 legged stool” to describe any idea – June 24, 2019

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