Wednesday, January 4, 2023

Rural Economics - Bollinger County, Missouri

As I am writing this, I am sitting on the banks of the Gulf of Mexico listening to the waves beat against the sand.  The clouds are dense, the fog is heavy, the locals are wrapped in warm layers as the temperatures have not climbed out of the fifties yet.  I keep replaying in my head that my son, my money wise son, was swindled out of $60 yesterday at the local Coach Outlet - it was a wallet that he could not pass up, or it was a saleswoman who told him that men should carry the best.  Either way, that was an entire day of wages for him at the Rhodes Farm.  He stacked wood, moved tree limbs, and fed cows for the money - all of those things I doubt the saleswoman had ever done or heard of. 

We are tiny little consumers in a big world of money.   These thoughts play over and over in my head. Where does the money go?  How do we spend so much?  Where are we spending our money?  Money Matters.   Money Talks.  Money makes the world go around.  

I recently read and heard about the talk of a new sales tax coming to town.  My heart sank.  As a multi-business owner, I already know how hard I work to get people to walk through my doors.   Hours are spent marketing, posting, begging, pleading, resetting, unpacking, and marketing again to get people to recognize our community is the place to shop.  My main marketing tool - things cost less here.  Yes, things overall cost less here, unless we are talking about eggs and they are just ridiculous everywhere you go - where I am today, I paid $8 for a dozen eggs.  Salt water must reduce production.  

A little over a year ago I wrote the same sort of column about sales tax, I suspect next year I will write again, but nonetheless the facts do not change.  A half cent of nothing is still nothing.   No marketing, no advertising, no anything can change that.   We cannot tax ourselves out of business.   

A few weeks back, Bill Peters gave an excellent interview regarding the fact that businesses cannot survive without the local support.  He nailed it, we need our locals, and we need our tourists.  
We are not fighting just the big box stores; we are fighting the mobility of others, we are fighting the trends, we are fighting the one click from our phone shopping.  We are fighting to keep our tiny piece of the great big consumerism pie.   

Instead of spending time thinking about how we can tax the people who shop, work, and invest here.  Maybe we should spend our time researching how we can increase the size of that pie and reduce the number of people that leave our community to shop, work, and live. 
What are we missing?  Where are they going?  Who is gobbling up our tax dollars to benefit their community? 

Just days ago, I received a message from an entrepreneur looking to invest in our community.  They pitched me their idea.  It sounded very similar to four other companies already in business in our community.   I knew I had to answer carefully as my words could be smeared by the local nay-sayers.  My first word of advice was, have you done a market analysis of our community?  Do you need help doing that?  

No one is doing a market analysis of our community.  At least not anymore.   I did one a few years ago before I opened First Street Market.  I used the same one to compare and consider for Old Lutesville Emporium.   I researched what we have and what we don’t have in our community.  I filled what holes that I could easily fill on a $10,000 budget and a $3,000 budget.  Yes, both businesses were started for less than $13,000 and in both buildings, we did some sort of remodeling and work to make it fit our needs.    Thank you to my landlord for thinking outside of the box and helping my small businesses get started.   

But what are we missing?  What are people leaving our community to do, buy, and use?   
I vaguely remember my Grandma Cora taking me to the eye doctor with her, vaguely, because I can’t remember where that eye doctor was located.  I barely remember my parents buying me a pair of school shoes here in town.  Barely, because I was so young and that was more than 30 years ago.  
When was the last time you sat down to a nice steak dinner in our local community?  I mean T-Bone Steak, Baked Potato, and a good glass of wine.  Yes, I went there.   We drive by hundreds of farms.  We live in an agricultural driven county, but you can’t buy a locally grown steak at a restaurant anywhere near here. 


On my last market analysis, I remember dozens of folks commented we need a small donut shop. Donuts, yes Harps sells them, they are very good. However, there is an attraction of going to the donut shop, sipping coffee, and watching your grandkids feast on a donut as large as their head. Ever heard of Hurts Donut? Research it! The Maple Bacon is to die for. Within walking distance of the condo, I am staying at there are dozens of mom n pop shops. Dozens. I ran to the Winn-Dixie last night as the pharmacy was closed to grab some medicine for my son. The Winn-Dixie was slow. The mom n pop shops were overrun with visitors. Why? Nostalgic? Unique? Different? Every Dollar General (by the way I am a huge fan of Dollar General) has yellow and black signs. It is their signature. Every Dollar General I have been into in the past 5 years has boxes and carts parked everywhere, a sign for Now Hiring, and a broken checkout. It seems to also be their signature. I love Dollar General because they provide the things we can’t get elsewhere, and they provide jobs for our people. However, I don’t feel we need more Dollar Generals, we need more Mom n Pop Shops. We need to fill the holes we have in our community and work to make our place so attractive to visitors that are burning up the roads to get here and keep those that live here shopping here. Don’t think this is possible? Research the community Caledonia, Missouri - population 131. I read recently during one event they strategically planned they drew over 20,000 people to their community. The shops, restaurants, and lodging were overrun with people wanting to see what this nostalgic little community had to offer. This has become a norm for the small community. There is not a day that the ice cream shop has not been busy. In Caledonia you can watch quilts being made, buy shoes, clothes, eat fried chicken family style, buy antiques, and stay for a week. They filled the empty holes. Their roads aren’t worse or better than ours. They do not have brand new sidewalks. I am not even sure all the buildings are air conditioned, and some might be heated by wood. They made it work. We can make it work. We can revive our community without additional taxes and cost to those that live and invest here.
In a rural community economic development does not look like the next Nissan plant being built in the cow pasture. It is the hairdresser being booked up, the pharmacy having a line, and the hardware store staying open late because of the demand.
This is a copy my column from The Banner Press, please support our local paper.

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