All one has to do is drive down Route 7 in Otsego county to see the blow that has been dealt to the local communities in the small rural towns. In discussions between Bart Finzel (Center for Small Towns); Jane Leonard (former president of Rural Partners) and Dave Engstrom (Minnesota of Small Cities) the fate and promise of small towns was the focus.
Dave Engstrom when asked about how small towns fared during the recession felt that small towns fared better especially small towns with tourism economies because these town have higher than average property tax capacities. He however pointed out that as the recession lingers, small towns will start feeling the pinch as local government aid from the state starts declining. This can be seen in three stories from the Cooperstown Crier in the past couple of days:
According to Engstrom:
From my observation, the biggest systemic threat is related to population decline, and specifically among younger age groups. As the population in small cities declines and grows older, there is less consumer activity, causing a decline in retail business. Also, school districts with fewer students fuel the local economy less. It’s a vicious cycle once it starts. The decline in retail and business activity leads to a glut of Main Street retail buildings, which drives down property values and eventually leads to a decreased tax base.
Finzel adds that:
Small towns that are built on a set of shared beliefs or aspirations, be it a desire for sustainable communities or the chance to fully engage in all aspects of a community, will be attractive in the future. This depends critically on leaders gathering residents together to articulate a shared vision. It will also depend on whether the town welcomes newcomers, creates opportunities for retirees to return and fosters a degree of promise in the future.
Let us keep the dialogue going for our future, and save our towns! Our legacy depends on it. Saying no to any potential progress may not be the solutions.