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Survey to analyze rural success, struggles

Survey to analyze rural success, struggles

May 21st, 2018 by Allen Fennewald in Local News

Westminster College students Kimber Summers, of Fulton, and Morategi Kgomokuumo, of Botswana, take a walk around downtown Fulton Monday afternoon, Jan. 8, 2018 during clammy weather.

Are you a rural resident with concerns about your local community, or has your area made achievements you think could benefit other rural areas? If so, then the Missouri Rural Survey was made for you.

This is the second rural survey conducted by the Missouri Department of Economic Development's Office of Rural Development, Missouri Rural Development Partners and the University of Missouri Extension. The agencies want to hear from 50-100 rural residents from each county in the state, including business owners and community leaders, about opportunities and challenges confronted by rural communities. The agencies evaluate the results so they can better address existing challenges.

"This is the opportunity for communities to let us know what they are thinking," said Sharon Gulick, director of Community Economic and Entrepreneurial Development with University of Missouri Extension. "What are their needs? What's happening in their communities? What are the good things?"

The survey is available at missouri.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_01k9LfYMwumdUiN. Paper versions can be requested from the MU Extension.

Gulick said the 2017 survey showed many respondents appreciate their communities but are concerned for the future.

"People just love their communities, but they also realize that their community needs a little help because things are a little tough right now for some rural communities," she said.

Gulick said the first few years of the survey will be used to build a baseline upon which they can begin to make conclusions and more aggressively confront issues that arise.

Many of these communities are experiencing increasing poverty while still learning how to operate in the "new normal" that has set in as residents struggle to bounce back after the economic recession, which caused considerable population and job loss.

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"Part of it is communities recognizing things have changed, and we've got to figure out a new way to address the economic needs of our communities, because the old model just isn't going to work," Gulick said.

Many respondents to last year's survey felt their communities didn't have a strong plan for the future. A large number of respondents felt their communities lacked enough members willing to take leadership roles, like joining a local committee. Rural residents also listed lacking funds to maintain local infrastructure and felt the need for more affordable health care services, especially for drug, alcohol and mental health treatments.

Another frequently listed issue was the mismatch of the skills employers require and the skill set of the available workforce in many rural communities.

"We aren't quiet sure if people aren't aware of the programs and how to access them or if it's the case that the employer needs are changing more rapidly than the training programs," Gulick said.

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