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Monday, July 19, 2010

Boost Rural Entrepreneurship: Build Bike Trails?

...and support small firms!

As the Madison City Commission prepares to make its case to the public for building a bike trail to Lake Herman, the commissioners might want to keep a copy of this blog post on outdoor amenities in their back pockets. Mike Knutson at Reimagine Rural summarizes a USDA/U. Tennessee study on "The Rural Growth Trifecta: Outdoor Amenities, Creative Class and Entrepreneurial Context." Say Knutson and the professors:
  1. More people are looking to move out of urban areas (in other words, there are more fish coming! Cast your line, rural economic developers!)
  2. Rural towns with outdoor amenities draw more creative folks, see more entrepreneurial action, and generate more jobs.
  3. Rural towns lacking outdoor amenities tend to draw more folks who fill factory jobs but fewer folks who create new jobs.
So if I take this summary correctly, building more bike trails could support building more jobs. (I'm telling you, build the Lake Herman Loop, and we'll be in high cotton!)

Of course, manmade features like recreation trails would only make up a tiny portion of outdoor amenities. The study measures outdoor amenities by the following characteristics:
  • January sunshine
  • January temperature
  • July humidity
  • July temperature
  • topographic variation (hills! vistas!)
  • water area (Lake Herman!)
  • mix of forest and open space (plant more trees... but not too many! the optimal forestation amount on this scale appears to be between 41% and 64%)
  • tourism (visitors and residents are attracted by similar features)
Alas, put all those things together, and we prairie folks have our work cut out for us. This map from page 10 of the study shows we South Dakotans sit right in the middle of the least outdoor-amenitous area of the nation:

Source: David McGranahan, Timothy Wojan and Dayton Lambert, “The rural growth trifecta: outdoor amenities, creative class and entrepreneurial context,” Journal of Economic Geography Advanced Access, May 17, 2010.

Uff da. With everywhere but the Black Hills and the Badlands falling into the bottom quarter of the outdoor amenity scale, most of South Dakota has a hard row to hoe in selling itself to the migratory creative class. I would suggest that we need to make the most of what watery, woody, hilly places we have. In other words, run some trails out to the Vermillion Hills, keep Lake Madison as clean and accessible as possible, and for Pete's sake, don't chop down those shelterbelts!

Also worth noting in the study:
  1. The third and fourth sentences: "Traditional strategies of promoting exogenous growth through the recruitment of employers are now much less effective. Routine and lowskill functions are increasingly outsourced to low-wage countries." As LAIC director Dwaine Chapel comes asking the city commission tonight (and county commission tomorrow) for our tax dollars, perhaps someone ought to discuss a shift from the failing strategy of recruiting those big outside employers.
  2. The lit review notes that folks in small firms tend to move into self-employment more often than folks in large firms. Now there is some self-selection involved—entrepreneurial types gravitate toward small firms in the first place. But recruit and/or seed 40 little firms that employ ten people each, and you lay the groundwork for more independent entrepreneurship than if you recruit one big firm that employs 400 people. (This sounds so familiar!)


  1. Cory,
    Thanks for continuing the conversation about this important subject. For me, the study raises a lot of questions, chief of which is: “Who should rural communities without abundant outdoor amenities target with their people attraction strategies?” The study is not bullish on it being the creative class, but that doesn’t mean talented people can’t be attracted to rural communities – especially if we get our act together.

    You may also be aware that Randall Beck wrote a great piece in the Argus Leader last week about the need for Sioux Falls to attract talented individuals. In it Beck acknowledges that Sioux Falls has historically fed off the talent of the rural communities in the region. He goes on to note that Sioux Falls will have to turn elsewhere, now that the rural talent pipeline is running dry.

    It sparked an interesting discussion amongst readers, but I think it’s sad that nobody picked up on what this all means for rural communities.

    We hope to identify examples of what's working in the rural talent attraction arena, and will continue to share what we learn on ReImagine Rural .

  2. I've been following this post as well, and yes, I've realized many of the same questions, problems, and conclusions as Mike.

    Here's my first pitch: We should all get together in Madison, (and beyond too) have a creative summit, and address all these thoughts, ideas, concepts, over some coffee, and good conversation.

    We have an opportunity to make something happen here, we already have much of the scenic structure in place, ie lakes and prairie, we just have to make it connect, make it work better.

    Granted, it's not an easy task, but I'd love to hear those ideas, and let's see if we can create a homespun plan, or better yet, an exciting creative vision for Madison.

    Takers, gawkers, talkers, let's see it happen here folks. Would Mike be willing to participate as a speaker perhaps? Maybe this would make for an interesting series of talks, community discussions, especially over the next few months.

    What do you all think?

  3. Personally, I think we need to create a wilderness area around Lake Herman.

  4. Spectacular idea, Troy! I'd love to be surrounded by a wilderness area protected from further development. Write up a bill with the same protections for landowners and current activities as the Tony Dean Cheyenne River bill provides for property owners by that grassland we discussed, and you've got my vote.


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