August 31, 2020
5 Things We Learned from Rural Resiliency and the New Narrative

See what we learned at “Rural Resiliency and the New Narrative” with Ben Winchester.

On Aug. 5, Independent Colleges of Indiana, Indiana Humanities and the Indiana Philanthropy Alliance, joined more than 180 people from across the state for an interactive presentation and breakout discussions during a workshop called “Rural Resiliency and the New Narrative. The keynote speaker was Ben Winchester, a rural sociologist. Here are Five Things We Learned: 


  1. Your town is in the middle of everywhere. A lot of Ben Winchester’s presentation focused on dismantling some pretty steadfast rural myths. But one of the biggest, perhaps, was that we need to reframe that our rural communities are “in the middle of nowhere.” People think regionally—they work, shop, send their kids to school, worship, etc.across city and county lines. Help people understand the regional assets that make your community right smack in the middle of everywhere, and suddenly you’ve changed the narrative 
  2. There is a rural brain gain, not a brain drain. Since the 1970s, although the relative percentage of people living in rural areas has decreased, the rural population has increased by 11%. In particular, they are gaining people in the 30 to 49 age group, but the 50 to 64 age group is close behind. The fact is that people are moving in and out of urban, suburban AND rural areas all of the time (44% of Indiana households move every five years). Of those that choose rural, less than half have kids in the house and only 25% have lived there previously. So, how can your community attract, connect with and retain those newcomers? 
  3. Remember the Halo Effect. When visitors are exposed to positive images, they are more likely to see it as a good place to live, start a business, raise a family, etc. How can your community tell its story across platforms and through your frontline ambassadors (i.e., gas station attendants, hotel front desk workers) 
  4. Consider your housing stock as a community asset. In rural areas, 30% of housing is being occupied by those 75 and over. How can your community help older populations understand their options, plan for the future and help alleviate strains on the housing options?  
  5. Beg, steal and borrow. There were a lot of great ideas floated in the break-out room discussions Here are just a few: 
  • Inventory your community’s amenities—and don’t forget to think regionally 
  • Take inspiration from The Haute 
  • Launch a social media campaign and create a clever # 
  • Create a Facebook group for newcomers 
  • Have retired teachers reach out to new teachers 
  • Treat every newcomer like a VIP (inspiration: Techpoint’s Red Carpet Experience) 
  • Have a business card/referral card program for frontline/customer service workers that rewards them for providing recommendations 
  • Create a “stay and work” package similar to “stay and play” packages 
  • Instead of a SOLD sign, how about a “Welcome Home” sign? 
  • Engage realtors—provide them with welcome kits, encourage them to set up tours with community members for newcomers, and more 
  • Bring back the unofficial welcome wagon 


Want to learn even more on this topic and items we discussed throughout the day? Here are some helpful links: 

 >>Prosperity Now Scorecard (county data)

>>Indiana Nonprofit Database

>>Webinar: The Case for Living Rural 


And finally, we’ll leave with you Ben’s request: 

 Is there a way to incentivize resident recruitment action in your local community? Consider mini-grants of $50 to $200 to support tangible efforts around capturing the positive narratives that exist across your region. Some examples include: 

  • Interviews conducted by high school students of new residents 
  • Newcomer suppers where new residents can see and learn about one other 
  • A grab-a-bite program where a newcomer ambassador will take out new residents for a meal and become a point of contact in their new community 
  • Working with local employers to help show potential new employees the benefits of not just working in the community, but living in the region. 




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