How One Rural Resident Got Neighbors to "Buy In" Towards a Stronger Town

Want to better your community but don’t know where to start? Enter It’s the Little Things: a weekly Strong Towns podcast that gives you the wisdom and encouragement you need to take the small yet powerful actions that can make your city or town stronger.

It’s the Little Things features Strong Towns Community Builder Jacob Moses in conversation with various guests who have taken action in their own places and in their own ways.

Rural towns often struggle to generate funds for much-needed projects. With a small tax base and minimal investment, these towns often rely on state and federal funds—setting them up for disaster should the money stop flowing.

In communities across the country, this can encourage a psychology of decline among residents towards their city or town. As residents witness moments of decline, such as a major employer leaving town, they doubt their own abilities to turn things around.

So when my colleague Kea Wilson shared an article with me from the Daily Yonder titled How Do You Reinvent the Rural Economy? $100 at a Time, it captured my attention.

The article, written by past It’s the Little Things guest Melody Warnick, describes how Elkin, North Carolina, resident Jeff Eidson, sensing that residents needed something to believe in, created Explore Elkin: a “grassroots economic development co-op” that generates funds to revive Elkin’s downtown.

And here’s the kicker: the funds aren’t from grants, loans, or even local businesses; instead, they’re from residents who’ve “thrown their chips in,” as Jeff likes to describe it—donating at least $100.

The result: Explore Elkin has used the funds to make small bets towards reviving downtown Elkin and, most important, has given residents something to believe in.

In this episode, Jeff shares the story behind Explore Elkin and how listeners can successfully create similar groups in their own cities and towns, including how to find and pitch a shared vision to residents, how to motivate residents stuck in a psychology of decline towards their city or town, and how to choose which projects to fund.

Top photo via Wikimedia Commons