Economies in rural regions are a bit like muddy hill slopes – there is a precariousness to them, a constant threat of losing your footing. And in rural regions, the tumbles seem to come with discouraging regularity. The market falls – or the rain doesn’t. The processor closes its doors, or a key local employer moves offshore.
For rural communities, the consequences of these shocks are very real: jobs and incomes are lost, house values fall, businesses close, families move away. Community viability, from the bank to the footy club, may suddenly be at risk. The language of crisis is once again on the front pages, fueling a negative view of the rural economies that are central to our national prosperity.
As someone who studies rural regions, it’s my job to understand why this happens; and more importantly: What can be done about it? Economic shocks happen everywhere; but rural economies and communities tend to be particularly vulnerable. Why is this, and what can communities, businesses and governments do to equip rural places for the future?
Over the next few posts, I’ll suggest some secrets of success for rural economies. Rural economies have four characteristics that can make them precarious and vulnerable to shocks – but these same characteristics can be “flipped” to become strengths and sources of advantage. Let’s explore how rural communities can recognise and mobilise these strengths – proactively, rather than waiting for the next tumble to come.