Trends for Rural Small Businesses in 2009

Rural small business trends 2009Being in business in a small town or a rural area is different from being in a metropolitan area. Your local economy is certainly different from the national big picture. That’s why rural small business needs its own list of trends for 2009.

Here are my picks for the top trends for rural small businesses.

1. Local Economy – Each small town economy is different. Of course we are all interconnected, but each region has different dominating factors, whether it’s agriculture, minerals, small manufacturing, or something unique. It’s a better indicator for your business than the Dow Jones. Two bad wheat crops in a row will touch my business quicker than the tightening of the national credit market.

2. Energy Production – Oil and natural gas prices have fallen far from their record-breaking levels in 2008, but are still high enough to support continuing exploration. Wind power and other alternative manufacturing and production have boosted many local economies. This means opportunities to build businesses supporting larger energy production companies, as well as new opportunities in helping small businesses, local governments and homeowners adopt renewable energy.

3. Shop Local – High gas prices were the catalyst; lingering interest in shopping locally is one result. Combine that with the falling economy, and we’re seeing more small towns start or revive hometown shopping promotions. Searches on Small Biz Survival for “shop local” have quadrupled over the last four months. As an individual business owner, it’s your job to constantly, repeatedly communicate what you offer to your local customers.

4. Online Shopping – High gas prices have had a second effect for small town businesses: driving sales online. reported a prediction that online retail will rise 17 percent this year to $204 billion. If you can compete online, it’s high time you do. As a small town business, you have a chance to tell your unique story and create an online shopping experience that big businesses have to pay dearly to try to replicate.

5. New Residents – Small towns will continue to see an influx of residents, escaping from metro areas. If the economy slides seriously downhill, I expect this to accelerate. Have you thought about how your business would serve new residents?

6. Atwoods Effect – Many new residents will be of the gentleman-farmer type. They may only have half an acre, but to them it’s a spacious ranchette. They need all the farming and country accessories that go with a rural lifestyle. You can be the one who provides them.

7. Regional Tourism – Instead of flying out to the tropics, many city residents will be looking for chances to travel regionally. Expect to see more family driving tours. The big beneficiaries will be the businesses that offer a slice of rural life, or a connection to the culture. This can be anything from traditional food making, old time crafts, old-fashioned farms, and even modern but rustic wineries.

8. Wildlife Assets – 87.5 million U.S. residents fished, hunted, or watched wildlife in 2006, up from 82 million in 2001, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. All together, they spent $122 million, primarily in rural areas where you find most of the wildlife. Small town businesses have opportunities to provide the individuals with more services, not only lodging and food, but also equipment, and even other activities for families.

9. Local Foods – Transporting food long distances costs not only dollars, but also has an environmental impact. Foodborne illnesses have been linked to imported foods and huge food processors. Put that together, and you have a growing group of people who are actively seeking local foods from smaller producers. (Do a Google search for “localvore“.)  Small town businesses can take advantage of this by not only feeding local residents, but also by reaching the nearby metro areas. Local food businesses can band together to promote a regional food experience.

10. Millennial Generation – The millennial generation is bigger than the Baby Boomers, more entrepreneurial, more civic minded. You’ve never had a better chance to engage the youth of your community. These are the kids who will help many small town businesses adopt new technology.

Bonus Trend:

11. Online Interaction – Even in my small town of 5,000 people, I’m seeing waves of locals on Facebook and other social networks, as well as reviews of local motels and restaurants on TripAdvisor. Not only should you be present in these places to interact with your customers, but you can also actively encourage your fans to post their reviews.

* * * * *

Becky McCray - rural small business mavenAbout the Author: Becky McCray is a small town entrepreneur, co-owner of a liquor store and a cattle ranch. She writes at Small Biz Survival about small business and rural issues, based on her own successes and failures.


Becky McCray Becky McCray is a small town entrepreneur, co-owner of a liquor store and a cattle ranch. She writes at Small Biz Survival about small business and rural issues, based on her own successes and failures.

24 Reactions
  1. In Europa food prices paid to farmers will decrease due to the presure by storechains in order to compete in this crisis

  2. Becky McCray: I am interested to hear more about your experience how wind power has boosted local economies.

    Here in Sweden they are talking more and more about “locally produced” agricultural products. In Italy, the slow food culture, is making impact. Personally, I like to consume both products that are coming from the local market, but also from foreign places. It is all about supply and demand and we should understand, accept and promote a free exchange of goods and a globalization of the marketplace.

  3. Becky — It’s interesting to hear about trends from a small town perspective. There certainly are a unique set of challenges and opportunities for small business in the rural sector. I look forward to hearing more from you.

  4. Becky,

    Good to see your posts on Small Biz Trends. I have been following you on Small Biz Survival for a couple of months.

    I think that your post is very interesting. I grew up in a small town. As people retire, the towns in that area are seeing growth but I definitely could imagine that the Internet could have serious potential to allow more people to live in small towns while still being able to pursue their careers. Could be very interesting.


  5. Gratis, thanks for the European perspective.

    Martin, in Oklahoma, we’re seeing a boost from manufacturing wind power equipment. In production areas, there is a temporary boost during construction, followed by a long term infusion of revenue for land owners, and after 10 years, there will be an increase in local property tax revenue for schools and county governments.

    Denise, thanks! I’m looking forward to sharing more here, as well.

  6. Thanks, Jeremy. That is one reason I’m a big supporter of rural broadband.

  7. This is a terrific post, Becky. Thank you!

    I’d add that there’s also an increasing trend in exacting hiring practices to better manage the rising cost of employment. Many of my clients are now (finally) opting for behavior-based interviewing techniques: asking for specific examples of accomplishments as opposed to a hypothetical “how-would-you-handle” type of questions.

    My two cents…

    Edward Navis, SPHR

  8. I don’t live in a rural area, but I can see how challenging owning a small biz in those areas can be. My in-laws live rurally and they barely leave their homes especially when the snow starts falling. I can see how beneficial it would be to have an online presence. I can imagine that it would help to gather your customers, who may be scattered miles apart, and keep them informed of your offerings. Looking forward to more of your articles.

  9. Good points here. Every area is different and has different needs. Small businesses should focus on what is needed at the time and how prosperous they can be by providing those goods or services. Businesses take a lot of thought and planning and that’s all part of it. Thanks.

  10. Edward, in my rural area, we are coping with a lack of qualified workers. That means we have to be extra careful about every hire. Thanks for your insights.

    Thanks, Amanda. It does make a big difference!

    Click and Inc, thank you. We don’t hear enough about the differences of rural businesses.

  11. What a truly insightful post into this topic. I spend a lot of time in the Allegheny Mountains of PA during the summer months and I can relate many of the trends you listed to places, businesses, etc. up there. At times it makes me smile to walk into an establishment in the middle of the forest and see that they have a website address and an online presence. I just think its so wonderful that they can connect with others to such an extent – without ever leaving the beauty of the forest. It doesn’t get much better than that. I also know a couple who have built a successful family campground out of 5 acres purchased about 10 years ago. And every year I’m up there, their establishment is growing and growing. They have a wonderfully successful family run business. And the best part – business is growing and growing and growing. I will soon be visiting another couple who has done the same, only in a different county up there. Instead of a campground – they built beautiful cabins on several acres – and business is booming. Thanks for such an insightful piece, Becky.

  12. Those are great examples, Staci. Thank you!

  13. Great trends to follow Becky. Thanks. I’m curious about the size of the millenial generation – I knew it was a large cohort, just not that it was larger than the baby boomers. Good to know from a target market perspective.

  14. Kris, isn’t that a surprising statistic? I first heard it from Jack Schultz, author of Boomtown USA. I found some supporting numbers here: . According to that report, the Baby Boomers add up to about 74 million, and the Millennials number 83 million!

  15. “If you can compete online, it’s high time you do.” This is valuable advice for any business, regardless of size or location. With the rising popularity of ecommerce, every business needs a website that is easily found and navigated.

  16. Becky,
    Loved the article. I grew up in a small town and currently live in a big city. I was part of a recent layoff and decided to move my part-time business full-time. Since it’s handled by phone and e-mail I can take it anywhere, and I eventually hope to move it to a small town. I miss that entire atmosphere. Even now when I go visit my family, people still know me. You don’t get that in a big city, and I know a lot of us in our 30s are starting to realize that bigger isn’t always better.
    Here’s to small town success!

  17. Miles Tech, it may not be true that *every* business needs a website, but it’s getting closer and closer!

    Jill, thanks for sharing your story. I keep finding people with similar thoughts of returning to small towns. I hope it all works out well for you!