Wise Towns Will Spur Young Entrepreneurs

[imgbelt img=oregonyouthentrepreneur320.jpg]The future of small towns will require helping entrepreneurial young
people learn the skills and find the resources they’ll need to succeed
with local businesses.

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[imgcontainer left] [img:oregonyouthentrepreneur320.jpg] [source]Rural Development Initiatives

Jordan Keck, 17, of rural Lincoln County, Oregon, took part in a Young Entrepreneurs Business Week, a summer conference where high school students competed to run a small business. Summer programs like this give business-minded teenagers experience and confidence.
In community after community, asking rural young people if they plan to live in their hometowns in the future meets with lukewarm responses.  But, when the question is changed, to ask how many youth would like to stay or return if there were quality career opportunities available, well over half shoot their hands into the air. 

Clearly, it is the perceived lack of careers that is causing many rural youth to believe that they must leave their hometowns and never return.

In reality, some careers of interest to youth may not be available through traditional employment in many rural communities. The good news is, according to a seven-year survey of rural young people, that almost half of rural youth are not interested in traditional careers: they want to own their own businesses. Rural places that tie their economic development resources to entrepreneurship-education can create help these young people pursue their dreams and, in turn, revitalize, grow and diversify their own local economies.

Over the past seven years, the Center for Rural Entrepreneurship at the Rural Policy Research Institute (RUPRI) has surveyed over 25,000 middle-to-high-school-age youth about their communities, education and career goals and their attitudes toward living in their hometowns in the future. We discovered a remarkable consistency in attitudes among rural youth from very different regions of county.

Of those surveyed, 51% picture themselves staying or returning home in the future if there are opportunities to do so. Yet only one-third of rural youth say that an adult has asked for their ideas or encouraged their efforts to make the community a more attractive place. These findings held true in diverse rural communities nationwide.

In tandem with this survey research, the Center has conducted focus groups with hundreds of young people from around the country, adding their narratives to the survey results.  They convey that quality career opportunities don’t appear to be available in rural hometowns, and with this perception, many youth believe they won’t be able to stay or return home. 

Home Town Competitiveness

Youth from Greeley, Sherman and Valley County, Nebraska, gathered in Ord to discuss what they can do to build up the economies of their hometowns.

This work may involve conducting an inventory of soon-to-retire business owners, local people who plan to sell their businesses over the next several years.  It may include helping with a business plan or using an existing revolving loan fund to help a capable young person without much equity or cash to get started in business.  Each young entrepreneur is unique. Local adults need to find out what help each one needs to move ahead.

To be truly successful, youth entrepreneurship must become a priority within a community’s economic development strategy.  Youth entrepreneurship requires a sustained effort, especially in this challenging economic climate where much of the attention is focused on immediate job creation.

However, unless rural communities with declining and aging populations succeed in attracting more entrepreneurial young people, their long-term futures are threatened.  It doesn’t so much matter what we do tomorrow or next week if in 20 years most of the current residents have passed on and the next generation has left town never to return. 

An old adage goes, “The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago.  The second best time is today!”

The Nebraska survey findings come from Nebraska HomeTown Competitiveness, a partnership of the Center for Rural Entrepreneurship, Heartland Center for Leadership Development and Nebraska Community Foundation. North Carolina youth survey results were gathered by the Center for Rural Entrepreneurship and North Carolina Rural Economic Development Center.

 Craig Schroeder is Senior Fellow for Youth Engagement at RUPRI’s Center for Rural Entrepreneurship. To explore ways to incorporate youth entrepreneurship into your economic development plan, contact Craig via email: craig@e2mail.org

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