Intersecting interests: Rural schools, rural communities, rural economies

Curved arrows labeled Education, Economy, and Community chase one another in front of a green triangle.Rural America’s problems are getting more attention these days, most notably from rural Americans themselves who are stepping up try to reverse the decline of the rural American economy and prevent the loss of their communities and community schools.

The following is an list of resources from a post I wrote earlier this year on my education blog, I Can Teach Writing. People in business community may find something here useful.

The resources are listed in order of their publication dates, which gives some insight into what’s changed and what hasn’t in roughly the last decade.

What’s happening in rural America?

(2009) The brightest students are leaving rural communities; job options for those who remain are diminishing.

(2012) The rural student population is getting larger, more diverse, and poorer.

(2013) Net migration isn’t offsetting the effects of brain drain.

Who is to blame for rural brain drain?

(2009) Schools and their communities each contribute to rural brain drain, setting the course for both to die. “Teachers, parents, and other influential adults cherry-pick the young people destined to leave and ignore the ones most likely to stay or return.”

(2017) Rural schools are failing their communities. A college degree in rural America is now synonymous with leaving and having no way to sustainably come back. Rural schools must work with their communities, rather than seeing themselves as separate from the cycle of economic decline.

How could rural schools aid in community development?

(2011) Schools could address community problems around medical care, food access, etc. by acting as self-sustaining revenue facilities.

How could rural schools aid in economic development?

(2011) A class of high school students in the poorest county in North Carolina designed and built a much-needed farmer’s market pavilion for the area.

(2012) Add skill applications to high school courses.

(2012) Greenville, NY, High School created what was, in effect, a small business incubator within its facility, offering a business rent in exchange for hands-on work experience for its high school students.

(2012) Encourage entrepreneurship by showing students online training resources they can access, and (2014) teach students to look for problems that require solutions.

(2013) Place-based, scholarly research by rural students can have direct, positive impact on local economic development.

(2013) Students in Cody NE, population 154, built a a 3,300-sq. ft. straw-bale building to use as grocery store and run it themselves. Inside, lettering on the wall above the produce cooler reads “It’s more than a store. It’s our future.”

(2014) Capture the imagination of students who don’t see college as a path for themselves by school programs that target local economic problems.

(2015) Pell Grant experiment needs needs rural scrutiny to make sure its rules won’t keep some rural students out of courses that fit their needs and interests.

(2017) Offer students a combination of coursework, internships, and job shadowing experiences to enable them to make informed choices about higher education, work, and place of residence. Preparing students for a continuously changing mainstream economy can give them the opportunity to return home as entrepreneurs or participants in the online space.

(2017) Schools can support project-based learning on authentic local problems that challenge students. For example, in Ness City, KS, an industrial arts class elected to design and build a tiny house. Other classes helped with interior design and marketing, and a special education class is documenting the project in a book. The classes plan to market the home across the country.

(2017) A SCORE chapter in Massachusetts collaborated with PTOs to deliver a six week, after-school program to train students in grades 4 through 8 to run their own businesses. The 72 participants in the initial program launched 52 new businesses, some of which were partnerships complete with partnership agreements.

 How can rural schools and communities collaborate?

(2011) Help teens get ready for the world of work with good attitudes and good skills.

(2012) Let teens work alongside adults to contribute to their communities and to develop and apply real skills.

(2012) Require students to apply classroom knowledge to real world writing situations and offer hands-on learning of salable skills.

(2012) Schools can grow their future teachers who will also be their communities’ future leaders.

(2014) Offer teens after-school programs that do more than distract.

(2014) Integrate non-academic services to students, their families, and even the wider community into the academic program.

(2016) Communities and schools need to work collaboratively to generate educational opportunities and economic prosperity in places where the number of voters without a child in school is a majority. Downloadable PDF from Battelle for Kids.

(2016) School personnel and community members need to change the mindset that every kid needs to go to college. Today’s career and technical education, or CTE, can lead to a decent-paying job, particularly in those fields where employers say they are trying to cope with a serious “skills gap.”

(2017) Public charters may offer rural communities a way to retain local schools.

What about the “no college for me” kids?

(2013) Give Career and Technical Education (CTE) students the same degree of academic support given their college-bound counterparts so they can take advantage of educational opportunities they need for their careers.

(2012) Six ideas for businesses serving the business market that require no post-high school training.

(2015) The internet allows someone with determination to learn skills for a good-paying job without the expenses of a college degree.

(2016) For years, there’s been almost no assistance for CTE students seeking post-secondary training. Three recent developments suggest the tide may be turning: An experimental program to give in financial aid to those in nontraditional programs (such as coding boot camps), a MOOC with a graded-paper option, and the introduction of a federal law to expand concurrent enrollment opportunities for CTE students.

Who is working on the three-pronged rural problem?

SaveYour.Town Two small-town Iowans offer webinars, toolkits, and online communities to help people learn, grow and take action to revitalize their communities.

The Rural School and Community Trust ( has many resources, including Tools to fight rural school consolidation.

The Center for Rural Affairs ( developed a series of articles on why rural schools need to be kept alive. The articles are available as a 6-page pdf document.

The Orton Family Foundation empowers people to shape the future of their communities by collective, collaborative activities focusing on their unique strengths.

Have I missed items that should be here? Give me a shout in the comments or @LindaAragoni on Twitter

Updated June 23, 2017; March 27, 2017.


© 2017 Linda G. Aragoni


Get ready for challenges

All small business owners in rural New York face daily challenges. We’ve gathered some ideas to help you confront them. A set of the ideas are geared toward food producers and food businesses.

Cybersecurity tips on Slideshare

Small businesses are a popular target of cybercriminals because they typically act as if they are too small to be attractive to criminals. Microsoft has turned its popular ebook on cybersecurity into a Slideshare presentation which you can view (and share on your blog or via email for free). The tips emphasize small things you can to that have a big impact on your data security.

Find savings to boost retail workers’ pay

To pay for mandated wage increases, a company has three options (1) increase labor productivity (2)raise prices (3) lose profits. Simply cutting employee hours is not a viable solution. This article looks at three ways a low-paying retailer can increase labor productivity to cover the increased wage costs.

Success tips for a landscaping business startup

There are certain tasks you’ll need to do no matter which services your landscaping business chooses to offer. These 10 tips can help you do the basics well.

How to start a business Snapchat account

Image-based platforms are today’s hottest social media. If your business depends heavily on customers’ ability to see products, a Snapchat account may work for you. This article describes and shows with screenshots how to set up a Snapchat business account.

Money is going out of style

About half of all transactions in the US today involve a non-cash payment, and the population between 18 and 34 would give up cash entirely if they could.  Learn more about the trend toward a cashless future.

Greenhouse growers can avoid pesticide use

A project is to educate growers about applying biocontrol materials  to control greenhouse pests includes four workshops to be held in Schenectady on  Sept. 15, Sept. 27, Oct. 4, Oct 11, 2016. Get more information here.

Learn to grow mushrooms for home or sale

Mushrooms are an emerging niche New York State. Learn how to cultivate shiitake, oyster, lions mane, and stropharia mushrooms for home or small-farm scale production at a Cultivated Mushroom Workshop on Sept. 29  in Cazenovia. Participants will inoculate their own log to take home to get them started.

Edible food wrappers made from milk

Peggy Tomasula, D.Sc., and colleagues from  the U.S. Department of Agriculture are developing an environmentally friendly replacement for plastic packaging. The new product is made of  milk proteins. The scientist’s work was presented Aug. 22 at this year’s National Meeting of the American Chemical Society . See a ACS video about the product on YouTube.

Food safety workshops scheduled in Delhi

Beginning September 1, two-hour workshops on alternate Thursday evenings and monthly all-day Saturday workshops on food safety will be offered by AgriForaging at the Delaware County eCenter in Delhi. Click to see details, including costs, of September’s workshops.

Feast spotlights Saratoga foods and chefs

The annual Feast of the  Fields showcasing locally produced foods prepared by local chefs will be held Sept. 15 at Saratoga National Golf Club to benefit Saratoga PLAN, a nonprofit land trust. Details including a list of the featured chefs and farms are available on the PLAN website.


Cell phones to farming courses

  • Cell phones
  • Keeping documents
  • Courses for farmers

and other useful and timely topics are in this issue of Rural New York Small Business Owner.

First rural NY broadband awards announced

Twenty-five projects spanning 27 counties in the Catskills, the Adirondacks and beyond will receive a total of $54.2 million in New York State funding, packaged with $21.6 million in private investment,  aimed at boosting rural internet speeds to at least 100 megabits per second in most places and 25 megabits per second in more outlying districts.

Mobile Ooma lets personal phone be your biz phone

The VOIP phone service Ooma Office now offers Ooma Office for Mobile, a use-your-own-phone system with most-needed business features. Download the iOS or Android version on your device, receive your business phone number, and you’re set. There’s a 30-day free trial period.  You can port your existing business phone number or get a toll-free number.

The self-employed exit rate is rising

Wannabe business owners may find bargains in established businesses for sale in the next few years. Although the rate of people entering self-employment has been rising, the percentage of self-employed people leaving the workforce is also rising. In consequence, the number of unincorporated self-employed has declined 8.1 percent since 1996.

You can recover from a customer service fail

You may want to ignore a dissatisfied customer, but it’s not wise. When they have a bad experience with a business, nearly two-thirds of customers look for a solution other than coming to that business again—a “solution” that may include bad-mouthing your business. Learn the three humbling steps to recovery when your customer service fails to measure up to expectations.

Documents you should keep in physical form

Cloud computing is good, but there are some business documents you should keep in physical form. Learn which print documents to keep.

Dropbox alternative priced for small business

A new service from Datto attempts to bring such dynamic file sync and share (FSS) services within the pocketbooks of small businesses. The first million small business customers to sign up for Datto Drive will receive one terabyte storage for 12 months free of charge. After one free year of storage, the Datto Drive FSS will cost $10 per month per terabyte for an unlimited number of users, a fraction of the cost of big name services such as Dropbox or Google Drive.

Register now for online small farm courses

Registration is open for the 2016-2017 Cornell Small Farm Online Courses to help folks from aspiring farmers to experienced ones develop the technical and business skills. Most courses are six weeks long and week feature a weekly evening webinar with follow-up readings, videos, and activities.


Will it hurt? Can it help?

Most rural small business owners have so much to do that they may not stop to think about what they aren’t doing that may be hurting them and what they aren’t doing that could help them.

Take a quick look at the news item summaries below and ask yourself:

  • Is there anything here I need to worry about?
  • Is there anything here I might be able to adapt to my business’s needs?

Paper coupons unhurt by digital coupons

Coupons appear to be a rare example where the arrival of digital equivalents hasn’t done much to hurt the original paper versions.  Even millennials, who are particularly avid online coupon clippers, prefer paper coupons.

  • Are you being beat out by competitors using coupons?
  • Have you tested printed coupons in your business?

Watchful eyes can reduce littering

A research study found that paper leaflets containing the image of a pair of eyes were dropped about a third as often as those without the image. Researchers say eye images encourage cooperative behavior by making people think they’re being watched. One caveat: People must be free to choose to cooperate.

  • Is some customer/bypasser behavior causing problems for you?
  • How could you test a “watchful eyes” solution to the problem?

Farmers’ markets have changed a lot

Back in the 1990s, farmers’ markets were about the only places consumers could buy organic produce. Today things have changed. There are twice as many farmers markets as there were 10 years ago, and they’re competing not only with each other but also with chain grocery stores.

  • What providers are flourishing at your local farmers markets?
  • If you can’t copy them, what alternative marketing can you explore?

12 industries to keep an eye on

Curious what market sector is most likely to be disrupted in the next few years, Small Business Trends asked a group of youthful startup founders what industry will have the biggest technological advancements in the next five years. Learn what one dozen industries they chose.

  • Will any of these developments kill you if your competitor gets it first?
  • How could you be first with the next big must-have in your industry?

Hoot Design Co. teaches clients to do its job

Hoot Design Co.’s philosophy is that if you know your bootstrapping clients are going to end up doing part of the work themselves,  it makes sense to do all you can to ensure they find success – and your great work doesn’t end up surrounded by embarrassingly bad work.

  • Is your reputation hurt by clients who do parts of your job themselves?
  • How could you teach parts of your craft—for a fee—so clients can do parts of the work themselves?

This issue’s news summaries and thought questions is a departure from our normal articles summaries.  What did you think of it?

10 topics for SBOs

This issue links you to articles on 10 different topics for different types of businesses in varying stages of development. There should be something for just about every rural New York small business owner.

Don’t discount print advertising

According to a recent study, print and online ads each pull 39 percent of retailers’ market reach. The retailers with the most success use print and digital advertising, especially if they can’t afford television ads which have a 40 percent market reach.

3 social media tips for B2B firms

Social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube are excellent places to promote your B2B message and connect with your firm’s followers, potential clients, and existing customers.

3 marketing mistakes small businesses make

New businesses make mistakes while they’re learning the ropes. Three common marketing mistakes with long-term consequences are entirely preventable. The first mistake is not having a website, which can lead to a second preventable mistake.

New overtime rules compliance checklist

Changes to the U.S. Dept. of Labor’s  Fair Labor Standards Act’s “white collar” overtime exemptions go into effect Dec. 1, 2016.  The new rules increase the salary threshold needed to qualify for overtime exemption from $455 per week to $913 per week. Learn more here.

8 habits restaurants need to satisfy customers

Patrons can make or break a restaurant. This infographic and text explain clearly eight habits restaurants need to be great at customer service and win the hearts of current and future patrons.

5 steps to creating a killer marketing plan

Don’t even think about a website, Facebook business page, or ad in the local “shopper” until you have a good marketing plan. Learn the five steps to creating a really good marketing plan that covers all media.

5 clever retail offers that won’t eat the profits

Running discounts without running in the hole can be tricky. This article shares five ideas for running retail sales while maintaining a healthy profit margin and brand image.

Being professional in a family business

When your manager is also your parent, sibling, or another relative, how do you keep things professional? An article in Harvard Business Review shares true experiences and advice for those in a family business and those just thinking about becoming part of a family business.

How to create a Facebook business page

If you haven’t created a Facebook page for your business, check out these directions and screenshots that show how to go about it.

7 deals to help you run a small business

There are plenty of lists of tools for small businesses, but this one is a bit unusual. Not only is it short, but the tools are both inexpensive and easy to learn. Definitely worth a look for a prospective or new SBO.


Customer service as marketing

In November, 2014,  Peter Shankman predicted, based on a minor Facebook change, that customer service would soon be the essential marketing tool.  This issue of RNYSBO looks at the marketing-service link today.

Why customers’ experience matters in 2016

Today a business in a rural community that’s doesn’t warrant a four-way stop on the state highway is competing with the best businesses in the world. That means your customers expect you to deliver the same level of service as Amazon, Apple, and Zappos. If you don’t deliver world-class service, they will go to a business that does.

4 simple reasons good restaurants go under

About 60 percent of restaurants fail in their first three years,  according to a report published by a Cornell University journal. You can probably guess that one reason is poor service.  Learn all four reasons in this Boston Globe Magazine article.

Customer feedback grows business 18 ways

Knowing you value their opinions makes customers feel good.  Learn another 17 reasons regularly surveying your customers and soliciting their feedback is essential to growing your business.

Millennials won’t phone customer support

Millennials would rather get a root canal than have to call someone to get the help they need. If you’re not providing help in ways they want help, they’ll buy their products elsewhere. And Elsewhere is gearing up to grab the millennials’ business.

Build a community of raving fans

On a scale of 1 to 5, a business’s relationship with its customers can range from (1) tolerating customers to (5) delivering mind-boggling customer service. If you want raving fans who always choose your business for the products/services you sell, you need to provide customer service that exceeds customer expectations.

Tools for managing customer relationships

Customer relationship management systems allow businesses to track sales leads, convert leads to sales quickly, manage customer support, and follow up for repeat business. Despite the benefits, small businesses aren’t taking advantage of CRMs. A SBA blog post by a business owner whose company is evaluating CRMs is packed with tips for comparing CRM software solutions and making moving to a CRM less difficult.

8 free CRM tools for small businesses

Although CRM software can be pricey, there is some good, free CRM software. Top of the list is small business solutions provider, whose CRM is free for up to 10 users. Zoho and the other providers on the list focus on  making their product intuitive as well as affordable.

New opportunities

From a new technology that offers new business opportunities to a new data  source to help you craft your marketing messages are in this issue of RNYSBO.

Free beginning farmer training for veterans

A free, three-day boot camp for veterans considering farming as a career  will be held Friday, Aug. 12, through Sunday, Aug. 14, in Hudson, NY. The Heroic Food Farm Boot Camp includes basic housing (rustic, semi-private) and meals. Registration is required by Aug. 5.

Most customer complaints are avoidable

Poor service and rude employees are the reasons for more than half of all customer complaints. Rudeness by itself led to 23 percent of customers’ online complaints. In all, 67 percent said they will complain about poor customer service directed at them.

10 reasons to work seriously on a business blog

If you’re not blogging, you’re leaving money on the table. A blog is one of the most-used and most effective content marketing tools. A blog will boost your search engine ranking by providing a stream of updated content, and if your posts are search-engine optimized will increase traffic to your website.

Think with Google data to boost your business

Google offers a host of free data resources in its Data Gallery to help small businesses improve their marketing. You can search for information by industry, platforms, and themes, or check featured data sets.

Learn newsletter lessons from  InVision

All marketers can learn from InVision’s  newsletter,  Shelby Clarke, a marketer who sees lots of newsletters every day, says. (Note: I get Invision’s newsletter, too, and agree with Clarke’s assessment of its strengths and weaknesses.—lga)

Startup opportunity: DIY plastic recycling units

Precious Plastic is trying to rid the world of plastic waste. It has developed a set of recycling machines that can be built locally from readily available materials. The machines are modular and fully customizable.  Blueprints for the machines can be downloaded for free as part of Precious Plastic’s online how-to kit.

App goes after confidential data leaks

Securio 4.0 scours the sections of the Internet invisible to search engines to locate stolen information. It notifies the victimized business that a confidential data breach has occurred. For $8 per user per month,  Securo 4.0 provides real-time data monitoring of sensitive data across a business’s network, cloud-based managed service platforms, and in the dark web. If you don’t think your small business is vulnerable to leaks, read Cyber-SecurityNot Just for the Big Guys.

10 top ways for local businesses to keep customers

Easy to scan infographic by YEAH!Local tells how a small, local business like yours can hang on to the customers they invested time, effort, and money to acquire.