Monday, June 11, 2012

Urban Escapees: The Future of Rural Communities?

By Katie McCaskey, Urban Escapee and small town grocer

Face it: the "city folk" are moving here.

As we enter an increasingly dense urban future, more urbanites will seek solace in calmer quarters—and, instead of embracing fear, rural residents should grab this opportunity with open arms. "Urban escapees" bring a variety of assets to rural America.

I speak as an urban escapee myself. I lived in three major cities before returning to my rural roots. It's a move that did not appeal to me in my twenties but, as I entered my thirties, grew increasingly enchanting. The move allowed my husband and me to buy property and start a business on Main Street, two things that were fiscally out of reach living in a large metro area. And, unlike previous generations, I had the added advantage to bring my job with me thanks to telecommuting.

In short, retirees are not the only city people who are discovering new opportunities in smaller locations. Mid-career professionals are starting to see untapped value in rural areas, and in the "micro urban" pockets of rural downtowns.

Many have mourned the decay of rural downtowns. But people like me—urban escapees who appreciate compact, city living—see a blank canvas of opportunity improved by several intersecting trends in technology, economy, and ecology.

Micropolitan Manifesto

Staunton, Virginia (population 23,000), where I live, is doing an excellent job of recruiting urban escapees with ambitions to start independent businesses. George Bowers Grocery, our business, was the first loan recipient of the Staunton Creative Community Fund, a microfinance organization. The fund was initially financed by the city. It has grown through a combination of public, private, and grant monies from the state and federal level and supported the start of several businesses.

I strongly believe entrepreneurship is the primary way forward for rural downtowns. I also believe that encouraging urban escapees to apply their experience and resources toward revitalization should be encouraged, not feared. My experience working with my husband to build our business prompted me to write the "Micropolitan Manifesto", a call to artists, change makers, and entrepreneurs.

I invite you to read it, share it, and connect with me if you would like to discuss!

Katie McCaskey is author of the forthcoming book, "Urban Escapee: How to Ditch the Commute, Build a Business, and Revitalize Main Street". Sign up at her site to be notified when the book is released.

Photo: Pat Jarrett

Visit the Rural Futures Lab here.

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