John Mellencamp sang about it, I’ve lived it. The small town which I grew up in, and currently live near, is and isn’t like a lot of small towns everywhere. Several generations of most of the families have lived here and if yours hasn’t you’re an outsider. There are families that share the same last name that insist they are not related. Truth is there was a falling out several generations ago that few if anyone really remembers. It is always safest, until you learn otherwise, to assume that everyone you talk to is family.
The county that my particular small town is located in is rolling out a new marketing campaign to attract visitors and perspective residents. We are a rural area that is roughly equal distance from Chicago, Indianapolis and Detroit. The intersection of a couple four lane highways that the state is trying to reestablish as major transportation routes is also in the center of the county.
The slogan or tag line the county is looking to establish is a play on the fact that while we are located in the center of these three large metro areas, it could also be called the middle of nowhere.
This is like a large part of Indiana. Small communities of several families that have farmed the land around the community for generations. Retail and industry grew up out of necessity in the agrarian economy that dominated the landscape. As transportation improved and the ability to ship products into and out of these communities improved the industry changed from small specialists that serviced the area to large manufacturing that capitalized on the expertise of the local entrepreneur.
As shipping, transportation and communication continued to improve even these manufacturers had to compete in a world labor market. That is where these communities find themselves.
That is how my small town is similar to just about every other hamlet in the state. How it is not similar is that a hundred years ago a private school was established on the shores of the relatively large spring fed lake. Along with the school the rail system brought a steady flow of visitors to the lake from these previously mentioned urban centers. Initially the vacation home owners and visitors were from the Indianapolis area. Eventually in later years it transitioned to include a large number of Chicago area vacationers also.
So while the local number of residents that live year around has remained unchanged for years the small community grows during vacation times. This has given the community some insulation from the loss of residents that other small communities and the state as a whole have sustained.
This is where we have come from and there are some interesting prospects on the horizon that will bring the process full circle. The rail that helped establish the community as a vacation getaway, there is an effort to reestablish commuter high speed rail that would put the area within commuting distance to Chicago.
Communication technology continues to improve that will make working and producing content in a rural location competitive. Competing in a world labor market for these skills makes the wages and cost of living in the small rural areas competitive again.
I like my small community, I like the lifestyle it affords me. I also like the location because I can get away easily to those urban areas and beyond. The world is smaller everyday. Not that long ago I knew most of the photographers and graphic artists in the area. Now I work with and communicate with photographers worldwide. My photos are as likely to be published in Europe as they are here. I am currently working with a paper in Idaho and fortunately I don’t have to travel to Idaho in February.
Like it or not Mellencamp probably got that right also, I’ll probably die in a small town.