Like it or not, rural
Tuesday, March 26, 2013 5:33 AM
Many governmental agencies and community leaders in cities surrounding Rochester, even those in the second ring that are located in our area, have endorsed Destination Medical Center. The reason is the tens of thousands of new jobs, even if they are in Rochester, means the potential for growth in the outlying areas.
If DMC comes to pass, or even if it doesn't, a trend that has been happening the past few decades will continue. Small communities in our region have been outsourcing their jobs to larger regional cities. In contrast to a business outsourcing jobs to somewhere across the globe, such as India, this type of community outsourcing enables workers to live in the community.
While that can stabilize, or even increase, population, does it really build a community? How many people that vacate their homes during the workday become active in the community?
Community organizations and services are facing those questions, or, if not, ignoring them at their peril. It can't be said that all commuters abandon community interests, but there is not the pull that occurred when the majority of people lived and also worked in the community, meaning local groups can't take participation in community activities for granted.
It's not just commuters that are changing the face of our communities. Look at how business has changed over the last couple decades. Convenience store chains have taken hold here, discount department or dollar stores have been increasing and even more businesses thought of as local have out-of-town owners as they consolidate business, not necessarily out of choice, but of economic necessity.
Often these out-of-town owned "chains" aren't as active in the community, depending on the nature of their managers, and they also don't have as much of a stake in what happens because their business in a particular location is just another branch, not an owner's "baby."
These two trends are making a big impact on small communities.
For example, service organizations such as Kiwanis, Lions or Jaycees, are all having problems with member numbers. Several decades ago, most every business owner joined a club. They had business reasons for getting to know the people in the community as their network of clients, or customers, came from relationships with other business owners or neighbors.
Today, with business owners living out of town and many neighbors working out of town, there are fewer people willing or able to join. The majority of people in a community may have social lives or business interests centered elsewhere.
Volunteer agencies are also facing a squeeze. Many ambulance services and fire departments are scrambling for members due to a combination of factors, including more people working out of town and more employers not allowing workers unplanned time off to take calls.
You also don't as often see business owners taking a lead role in getting things done. Several decades ago, when a community needed something, business owners would get together and take care of the problem as they had the financial resources and vested interest in the community to make a commitment.
It's not all doom and gloom, though, and it isn't fair to categorize a whole class of people just because economic conditions require changes in their work or business environment.
When bad things happen, people in small communities pull together. Whether it is community-wide, such as a flood, or personal, such as a fire or disease that results in a fundraiser benefit, the response shows the strength of the community. Local people, no matter their work role, and business owners, even if they don't live in the same town, pitch in, often times with results that are beyond imagination.
Instances such as these, which seem to be more common in recent years, show there is a desire to connect to the community. The challenge is how to channel that desire into ongoing community support.
Organizations that just complain about lack of involvement and pine for the good old days aren't going to make it. They need to adapt to survive, just as individuals and business owners have adapted to the new economic reality.
For example, many local ambulance services have applied to the state to allow openings for first responders, which don't require as much training. It's not all at a local level either as Congress is looking at extending an income tax exemption on a modest amount of volunteer benefits to provide an incentive for firefighters.
Community organizations, at least the successful ones, are also modifying their approach to connect with the changing makeup of community.
Some may not like to identify the change as "progress," but it is a trend that doesn't appear to be going away.