Rural Economy | KCUR

Rural Economy

Gary Smith has worked at the grain elevator at Okaw Farmer’s Co-op in Lovington, Illinois, for 40 years. On his desk sit two computer screens, where he tracks corn and soybean prices online at the Chicago Board of Trade.

As he explained, trade moves fast: “Just bam bam bam, and within a few seconds it could change a nickel or a dime against your favor.”

Laura Ziegler / KCUR 89.3

The Royal Theater, once called The Fox Theater, opened in Atchison, Kansas, in 1912 as a vaudeville theater. It later showed films on the silent screen, complete with an in house piano player. They added talkies when they came along in the 1920s.

Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

When communities watch young people grow up, go off and never return, remaining residents and politicians often bemoan there’s been a “brain drain” — especially when such population loss means schools and businesses close.

But plenty of residents are full of love and pride for those communities, and some are working to identify their towns’ best attributes so they can attract new residents and achieve “brain gain.” 

Ashley Leal parks in front of the Plains, Kansas, Community Library. It’s about to close, but she doesn’t care. She pulls out her blue laptop.

“I’m ... using the Wi-Fi,” Leal says with a laugh.

Her home internet was so slow, she came to the library parking lot. Cars often idle there in the evening while their drivers tap into a plodding, but treasured, link to the internet.

“I’m just thankful that we have somewhere to go,” Leal says.

It’s the only free internet in this small western Kansas town. For many people, it’s the only internet, period. Surprisingly, part of the problem and the solution, for rural areas may lie in Netflix traffic.

Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media

The Trump administration wants to show rural communities, which voted for him by wide margins in the 2016 election, they are still on the president’s mind.

KC Fed
Charvex

The Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, part of the nation's central banking system, is perhaps best known as a key provider of agricultural economic data. Its president helps set national interest rates. It works with banks.

But the bank also promotes economic growth in its seven-state region. Dell Gines, who heads up the Fed's small business work with rural communities and urban neighborhoods from its Omaha office, calls it the work of a "wholesaler."

Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media

In places where the unemployment rate is well below the national average — states like Nebraska, Colorado and Iowa — one would think it’d be easier for communities to recruit new residents to fill open jobs.

But the housing market works against rural towns and cities where jobs often stay open because there are too few affordable homes and apartments to buy or rent, or the ones that are affordable need lots of TLC. It’s a situation that threatens to turn low unemployment from an advantage into a liability.