If you live in Luling, Texas, (population 5080) you don’t need another list of the top trends for big city dwellers. You want to know what’s happening in the small towns. It’s different. You’re more worried about the Citizens State Bank, than Citibank. With those differences in mind, here are the top ten trends for rural small businesses and small town entrepreneurs in 2010.
1. Census 2010 – Population counts are critical for government programs, grants, and more for a decade. Smart small towns and counties will be actively finding ways to get everyone counted. Watch for town meetings to answer questions, and a whole bunch of canvassing. Your small town business will be indirectly affected by the results for ten long years.
2. Health care reform – As we start the year, there are a couple of important rural items in the likely provisions of health care reform legislation. Particularly keep an eye on the student loan forgiveness and other incentives for rural doctors. The Center for Rural Affairs has a straightforward summary.
3. “Shop local” campaigns grow up and out: 2009 was the break out year for Shop Local campaigns. We’ll see even more in 2010. What started with support for retail and downtown businesses will grow up and out, to reach other small-town businesses. I expect to see more surveys of what local businesses need, and more attention paid to ways to help those businesses improve, as a part of the whole local economy.
4. Infrastructure: Construction is underway in many small towns on projects funded by the Recovery Act. Many more projects are still pending, so this will continue to build throughout 2010. Small town construction and trade businesses will be the first beneficiaries. Smart small businesses will find a way to support those construction firms, to benefit their own bottom line.
5. State budget crunches: In small towns, more people (i.e., your customers) work in government jobs. That can be bad news since 30 states hit budget deficits in 2009 and 48 states are facing deficits in Fiscal Year 2010. I’m also expecting this to mean cuts to government services in outlying areas and more push for school consolidation. Neither is good news for small towns.
6. Broadband gets some attention: With the Recovery Act making a big push on broadband in rural areas and the FCC eyeing some rather slow minimum standards for rural broadband, expect to see more attention focused on rural access to broadband in 2010. Will we see better access? Only in some select areas. Yes, it’s a trend this year, but the solution will be a series of long-term projects.
7. Baby Boomers are migrating. The USDA is predicting more Baby Boomers will retire to small towns than previous generations. This is going to mean an increase in the active 50-75 age group in some small towns. Get your business ready to welcome these new residents.
8. Regional partnerships: First it was economic development building regional partnerships. Now it’s tourism. Next will be business and entrepreneurship. Working together across traditional small town rivalries is difficult, and maintaining projects over long distances is daunting. But the benefits are worth it.
9. Business lending tightens: Small town businesses have always faced fewer lending options, so more small businesses rely on credit cards for financing. Since credit card companies responded to the recent reform bill by lowering credit limits and tightening their lending, many small town businesses have lost a lending option. All banks look at your last two years of financials for lending decisions. The 2008 and 2009 numbers are pretty bleak for most small businesses, so don’t count on the Citizens State Banks of the small towns to bend the rules to help.
10. Tourism closer to home: I’ve had enough of air travel hassles! I’d rather drive! Continuing the trend from last year, families are taking more driving vacations close to home. Small towns within an hour to an hour and a half away from the metro areas will gain the most. Almost any small town business can find a way to offer visitors a slice of rural life, or a connection to the culture.