What small town people see as their biggest challenges
And what topics rural people most want help with
Since 2015, over 1400 people answered the Survey of Rural Challenges. It uncovered big disconnects between what rural people want and what media, service providers and policy makers provide.
Services and assistance commonly offered to rural people don’t match up with what rural people say they want help with.
Common themes in media coverage and policy conversations around rural communities don’t match rural views.
What urban and suburban people think of rural challenges is tinged by stereotypes that don’t agree with what rural people are thinking.
Who this survey is for
If you live in a small town, you may want to see how your challenges compare to other towns.
If you cover rural stories for any type of media, you want to break through shallow stereotyped coverage, It may help to hear the relative importance of different challenges to rural people.
If you provide services or assistance to small towns in your work, you will want to find out more about rural people’s own view of their challenges.
Video: Analysis of survey results
A 23 minute video analysis of all four surveys’ results is available at SaveYour.Town, presented by co-founders Becky McCray and Deb Brown.
Here is a short sample of the video analysis:
Watch the full 23 minute video analysis at SaveYour.Town
Speaker on video: Becky McCray, co-founder of SaveYour.Town
This is the pattern that all four rounds of the survey revealed: people are most focused on a closely related set of ongoing challenges in their local communities.
These long-term local challenges include ones you’d expect in rural places, like population losses, lack of usable housing and the emptying of downtowns. For small businesses, it includes trouble finding people to hire, stiff competition from online businesses and the difficulty of marketing effectively. Then there are the hidden challenges, ones that often get overlooked outside of rural, like leaders being too closed to new ideas and resistant to change.
We think this focus on long term challenges has big implications for people who cover small towns in the media, people who offer services and support to rural communities, and people who write the legislation and policy that affects all rural areas.
What is most interesting to us is that this doesn’t line up with either the stories we saw most often in the media or the messages coming from organizations that serve rural people.
Do you serve in one of these organizations?
- Economic development
- Jobs development authorities, industrial development groups
- Workforce boards
- Community development, community foundations
- Professionals who serve small towns
- Engineers, planners, architects
- Economic development and related consultants
- Rural utilities, cooperatives
- Rural banks, lenders
- Local governments, Tribes, Planning and zoning, COGs
- Educational institutions, schools, tech centers, community colleges, universities
- Newspapers, rural media, online media
These survey results are crucial to understanding what rural people most need from you.
Press and Media Information
Origin of the Survey of Rural Challenges
Speaking: Becky McCray, creator of the Survey of Rural Challenges.
The very first time I ran the Survey of Rural Challenges, I was only asking people what topics they wanted me to write about on my site Small Biz Survival. That’s why the questions say things like “which of these would you be most excited to learn more about.” I never expected to share the results as a public report.
Once I read what people told me about their towns, the challenges they were facing, and what they most wanted help with, I realized that other people needed to see this, especially people and organizations who serve small towns.
For some reason, a lot of the services and assistance that I saw offered to small towns simply didn’t match what the people themselves were saying they most wanted help with.
About the survey methodology
Across 2015, 2017, 2019 and 2021, a total of 1446 responses were collected online from subscribers and visitors to SaveYour.Town and SmallBizSurvival.com, from media coverage and cooperating groups that publicized the survey. Respondents identified themselves as rural by completing the survey, and 785 identified themselves as business owners by responding to the business questions.
Most people were from the United States, 79 from Canada, 24 from Australia and 19 from other international locations.
Previous survey results reports 2015, 2017, 2019
- Cooperative Living Magazine, New Ways to Boost Rural Areas, October 2021
- High Plains Journal, Speaker shares tips on tackling rural housing challenges: SaveYour.Town co-founder taps into sever years of surveys with small communities
- Rural Messenger, First Friday speaker shares tips on tackling rural housing challenges
- Idaho Business Review, National rural challenges survey on par with Idaho’s
- Kansas Ag Connection, First Friday speaker shares tips on tackling rural housing challenges
- The Paper, Dwight, Illinois, The Corner by Tom Tock, July 2021
- Radically Rural email newsletter, July 2021
- Tourism Currents newsletter, June 2021, July 2021 email newsletter
- Small town greatness, AARP Live, RFD-TV
- Miltonvale (Kansas) Record, June 2021
- Atchison County (Missouri) Development Corporation newsletter, June 2021 sent via Atchison County Mail newspaper saturation issue to all county residents
- This is Where You Belong, author Melody Warnick, email newsletter, Issue 41, June 2021
- Insight on Business the News Hour with Michael Libbie podcast, radio 1540 KXEL
- Rural Route podcast with Trent Loos, May 2021, video and audio
- Big Sky Economic Development, email newsletter, December 2020
- Inside Our Industry, Agracel, Inc., email newsletter, Issue 21, November 2020
- Small Biz Survival, How has 2020 changed the challenges rural small towns face? Tell us here
- RuralRISE email update, October 2020
- Building Possibility, Survey of Rural Challenges 2020/21
- SaveYour.Town, How has 2020 changed the challenges rural small towns face? Tell us here
- SmallBusiness.com, Challenges Facing Rural and Small Town Businesses and Residents| 2020
- National Association of Development Organizations, email update January 2020
- BIGG Success podcast with Georgre Krueger and Mary-Lynn Foster, Survey of Rural Challenges 2019
- Radically Rural email update, Hannah Grimes Center for Entrepreneurship, December 2019
- Alva Review-Courier, December 22, 2019, What do rural people say are their biggest challenges?
- The Agurban, an Agracel Publication – #766 – Survey of Rural Challenges – 2019 Results
- Marketing Profs, Small Towns Present Big Opportunities for Marketers: Rural-Business Expert Becky McCray on Marketing Smarts [Podcast]
- Interesting Survey of Rural Challenges: The results don’t match common stereotypes of the biggest challenges to growth rural communities face, Ann Handley
- Episode 34: Co-Creation in a Small Town – Rebecca Undem, December 2019
- New Zealand Institute for Rural Entrepreneurship, Charging ahead: NZIRE is on the move – and so is rural entrepreneurship
- Economic News – Easton Economic Development Corporation, December 2019
- Cowlitz-Wahkiakum Council of Governments Weekly Reader, January 2020, CWCOG Economic Development District
- Daily Yonder, ‘Speak Up, Rural America,’ Say Small-Town Business Consultants
- Rural Assembly, email update July 2019 Survey of Rural Challenges open through July 30
- The Results are in! SAVEYOUR.Town has released the results of its 2019 Survey of Rural Challenges. Western Nevada Development District
- The Rural Blog, Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues Survey of Rural Challenges, open through July 30, helps widely scattered rural communities share ideas
- LISC Rural eNews, February 2020
- Rural Delivery, New York State Rural Housing Coalition, Inc, August 2019, Survey of Rural Challenges
- The Hoptown Chronicle (Kentucky) – Survey of Rural Challenges, open through July 30, lets people in small towns share ideas
- The Agurban, an Agracel Publication – Survey of Rural Challenges
- International Association of Community Development, “Survey of Rural Challenges 2017: What small town people in the US and Canada see as their biggest challenges and what topics they most want help with,” Practice Insights issue 10, March 2018
- Main Street America, State of Main 2018, The Future of Retail
- South Dakota Public Broadcasting, Saving Small Town South South Dakota
- The Rise of the Rural Millennial, Archinect
- Population Smallsville, Invision Magazine
- Renewed Interest: A Fresh Look at the Rural Church, Collaborative Development International, December 2017
- McClusky Gazette, North Dakota, Survey of Rural Challenges 2017
- EntreWorks – Challenges for Rural Retail
- Agurban – What rural people say they need
- Tourism Currents – Small town tourism challenges? Survey says…
- Small Biz Survival – What rural people say they need: the Survey of Rural Challenges
- Republic County Kansas Economic Development – What rural people say they need.
- NeedALittleAdvice – SaveYour.Town update
SaveYour.Town believes small towns can be saved by their own people using their existing assets. Deb Brown and Becky McCray joined forces in May 2015 to help small towns and rural communities thrive. They deliver speeches and presentations internationally, lead site visits and community brainstorming sessions, and create online videos and short courses of practical steps that can be put into action right away.
About Small Biz Survival
SmallBizSurvival.com publishes practical articles for rural small businesses. It was founded in January 2006 by Becky McCray from Oklahoma. Over the 14 years it has achieved top ranking among small business blogs on sites like Technorati, Invesp BlogRank and BizHumm, and it continues to appear on lists of top small business blogs. For her work as publisher, McCray has been named one of the Power Players in Technology Business Media and a Small Business Influencer Journalist four times.
About Becky McCray
Becky McCray is a lifelong small-town entrepreneur. As co-founder of Save Your.Town, she shares insights from her real-world experience as a business owner and cattle rancher. Throughout her career, rural has been the focus. She managed a retail store, served as city administrator and nonprofit executive, bought and sold antiques and taught classes in business and technology. Her practical perspective is featured at her highly-ranked website, Small Biz Survival, and in her award-winning book, Small Town Rules. She’s been featured and quoted in books, newspapers, magazines, blogs, podcasts and university publications. She makes her home base in Hopeton, Oklahoma, a community of 30 people.
About Deb Brown
Deb Brown is a small town enthusiast and expert for small towns. Her practical approach for getting communities into action right away has been shared at national conferences, local visits, service organizations and everything in between. Her wealth of experience includes foreign casualty insurance underwriting, bartending, retail management, selling knives around the US, leading a chamber and working with small towns. Deb has lived in tiny towns, small towns, small cities and a major metro city. She’s come home to a small town and travels to many other rural communities to help. She collaborates with Becky McCray at SaveYour.Town and has her own business www.BuildingPossibility.com.
Photos and Logos
The Survey of Rural Challenges is brought to you by Becky McCray and Deb Brown, and by SmallBizSurvival.com and SaveYour.Town
Website and social media links
This Survey Results Page and News Room:
For more info contact