The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service recently reported that the number of Americans living in nonmetropolitan counties (the term "nonmetropolitan," as used by the Department of Agriculture, is analogous to "rural") fell between July 2012 and July 2013. This marked the third consecutive yearly decline. While the total decline between 2010 and 2013 was relatively meager-72,000, or 0.16% of the overall rural population--the numbers raise an important question: Is this the result of the earlier economic downturn, or will it prove an ongoing trend?
This hit of news is hardly ' shocking. For quite some time, the rate of rural population growth has been slowing. It is only now, for the first time ever, that the rate has turned negative. Reversing this trend will not be easy, as there is no single solution that. will solve the problem.
One key factor in securing the ongoing viability of rural communities will be the presence of strong community anchor institutions--schools, libraries, hospitals and medical facili-ties--and other institutions that play critical roles in the daily lives of a community's citizens. While the presence of these anchor institutions will not, in and of itself, save rural America, there can be little doubt that their absence would be a blow "I've seen several small town communities lose their schools over the last two years and the community starts dwindling soon after," said John Tictjens, president and general manager of Mutual Telephone Co. (MTC; Little River, Kan.). 'These organizations are the reason people choose to live in these communities. If you had a choice, where would you go--to a town with no school, library or hospital, or to a town that had all three?"
Turning People Inbo Communibies
Communities are much more than groups of individuals Atm happen to live in close proximity to each other. Commtinitics require something that brings neighbors together, that enriches their lives and satisfies their physical and intellectual needs.
Anchor institutions serve this role. As David Wolf, chief executive officer/general manager of Gardonville Cooperative Telephone Association (Brandon, Minn.), noted, "Anchor institutions add value by fulfilling socioeconomic needs that are otherwise unmet in rural America."
Anchor institutions do that in a variery of ways. Hospitals and other medical facilities in close proximity to a community provide not only health care but also peace of mind, an...