More Than a Necessity, a Priority!
Friday, March 12, 2010
Posted by: Matthew Montoya
By Jim Genandt
Dean of Instruction
Spoon River College
Let's spend a few moments considering rural. A simple concept of many people about rural is like this: rural is country, urban is city, and suburban is in between. Rural is usually not condensed in size as a city can be, and rural usually means a smaller population base than an urban area. I realize you probably grasp this. However, we have to be careful about the inferences we develop from what we perceive to be simple, clear facts and conditions.
The United States Census Bureau offers data that indicates about 75 percent of the nation's population lives in urban areas, with 25 percent residing in rural areas. Population estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau indicate growth in metropolitan areas and slow growth or population losses in much of small-town and rural America. Between 2000 and 2003, the metropolitan United States grew by 3.8 percent, compared with 1.6 percent in small-town counties and 0.5 percent in rural counties. So, rural America has much land and few people. Urban America has a lot of people and not as much land. So what?
Most folks associate business development with urban areas. More people, more resources, more possibilities seem logical. However, this is a dangerous perception. Why? Is there an undercurrent to this perception that folks in urban areas will be smarter, more creative, have access to more resources, and thus be more prone to entrepreneurship and business acumen?
Yet we have many examples of rural entrepreneurship and business sense. And we certainly see evidence in our current times of amazing ideas and business start-ups in rural areas, often by young people who we need to retain in rural areas so that the future of rural America will still have significant promise for quality of life and economic stability. A 2005 study by Illinois Wesleyan University noted a lack of rural entrepreneurship education curriculum to target young people who had business ideas, but these same students were not sure a rural area could support entrepreneurship. The study also noted that most curricular materials being used in rural areas for training and education were based on urban resources.
There is one element available to people anywhere, including rural areas, that can help develop people and their potential capabilities related to entrepreneurship. That element is education. We have an obligation to continue to spread the word about the power of entrepreneurship as both a personal and community/regional tool for empowerment and economic vitality.
We must make sure, however, that folks in rural areas or interested in working with rural areas understand some of the differences in building and using the entrepreneurial spirit in rural environments. Rural is different than urban, but the differences do not have to be seen in terms of advantages or disadvantages. The differences should be viewed through the prism of education and learning as various paths of opportunity that can lead to similar goals, objectives, and desired results. It may be trite, but it is people who do make the difference at this most basic level. Educational institutions in rural areas have to design and provide the training and programming so people understand how to use rural resources and locations successfully in being entrepreneurs.
Let me close with a statement from Alvin Toffler: "The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” The more effectively we promote and provide opportunities for entrepreneurial education and experience in rural areas, the more successfully we will meet the essential needs of people in this century…to learn, unlearn, and relearn.