For years I have believed that a small town would do better if the community took extra care of what it has, instead of spending money to attract new things. I feel that if you take care of what you have, and improve people's quality of life, growth will come naturally, with much less costs to the taxpayers.

For years I have believed that a small town would do better if the community took extra care of what it has, instead of spending money to attract new things. I feel that if you take care of what you have, and improve people's quality of life, growth will come  naturally, with much less costs to the taxpayers.
By taking care of what you have, I mean fixing all the streets, not just those that favor special interests. Helping the library (thanks, Neosho, for that); keeping up the parks; picking up litter; constructing needed school buildings; and encouraging small businesses, such as computer repair shops and small electrical or plumbing shops, are also positive. Many one-man shops grow naturally and soon you have three or four workers.
Recently I read about a small Iowa town in that was losing population. Young people graduated from high school and moved away, never to return. A new plant has come to town that can employ 700 workers. Even though the plant does not have enough workers now, the company's president says they are not planning any changes. He said, "Our philosophy is you bloom where you're planted."
Meanwhile the town is slowly growing.
A professor at nearby Iowa State has studied towns such as this. She believes that towns need not spend money trying to lure new residents. She believes in something called "The Shrink Smart Project." A philosophy based on "shrink and improve."
The believers in this idea point to Sac City, Iowa, a town that lost a lot of population when a manufacturing plant closed in the 1980s. Now the town has a hospital, a recreation center, two swimming pools, a library, a very active day care center and a roadside attraction (the world's largest popcorn ball which weighs more than four tons.)
According to officials, the secret to Sac City's success is having champions for every project. A citizen or a group takes the lead in each project. He says people are "super involved" and willing to work together for the good of the town. Everyone is involved.
 To the town's surprise, a local man died and left $5.7 million for city beautification. This is being spent on quality of life things, such as new playground equipment, tennis courts, a community center, landscaping for the town, and street signs that were installed on every corner.
These quality of life projects have helped the town and have made residents feel better about their community. They are cheerleaders for their town, and it is slowly growing.
This idea may not work for every town, but it certainly is working for other towns.
A town where Russell spent much of his childhood is experiencing the same thing. When the school closed, a local person bought the large brick school building and turned it into a new research lab for his company which is in a nearby town. They have now established several divisions of the company in other small towns. It is really an amazing multi-million-dollar company which is growing steadily. All this from a local man who believed in his small (population 700) town.
I wish they were a publicly trading company so I could buy some stock.

Kay Hively writes a column for the Neosho Daily News.