Reimagining Rural America: How Can Small Towns Survive?

Shickley, Neb., is a town experiencing a revival highlighted in Andrew McCrea’s book, “The Total Town Makeover.”  ( Andrew McCrea )

What will it take to help small towns survive?

Shickley, Neb., is a town of just 300 people. But it’s a multimillion-dollar town when you count the size of the endowment the town’s citizens have raised to support local projects. 

Total Town MakeoverCommunity leaders didn’t want to see their small town dry up and die. A small group began meeting several years ago to brainstorm ways to build and keep wealth in their town. They shared their vision for the future and formed a foundation to raise funds. The town has a goal of its endowment reaching $8 million by the end of 2020. 

Shickley is one example of a town that’s undergoing a major makeover, says Andrew McCrea, host of the American Countryside radio broadcast and author. In his book, “The Total Town Makeover,” he highlights towns creating robust economies and vibrant communities. 

Makeover Checklist

These small town transitions are far from easy, but they also aren’t as difficult as you’d imagine. 

“There’s no right or wrong way to accomplish the total town makeover, but I’ve found some common steps successful towns often take,” he says. Consider these ideas:

  • Does your town have an endowment or other sources of funding to provide seed money for projects or matching funds for grants? Just as a person needs a savings account, endowments serve much the same purpose for a community.
  • Do you have a group leading the way, or are separate groups pulling in different directions? Try to form a coordinating group or clearly define what each individual group hopes to accomplish.
  • Does the community have short- and long-term goals? Have they been written down and shared? People want to have an idea of the vision before they buy in.
  • Are you using newspapers and social media to communicate? Provide progress updates. Show pictures. Build momentum. Social media allows you to connect with people who might not live nearby but have a connection to the town and will support your efforts.
  • Improve the town’s culture by making a commitment to smile more and compliment and praise others. It might be a specific person or group that lead the way in building a positive and proactive culture. 

Think about your hometown and community. What are its assets? Why can’t it be a thriving town?

“There’s more than hope residing in rural America,” McCrea says. “There are qualities in these areas that can’t be experienced anywhere else. Qualities worth preserving not for the sake of nostalgia but for the sake of a better future for all.”  

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Don’t miss Andrew McCrea’s presentation at Executive Women in Agriculture, “The Total Town Makeover: Rethink Your Business, Community and Home.” Register at

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