[Sheena Lindahl] described herself as an average high school student who always wanted to go to New York City, despite being afraid of it. Facing her fears (a common theme throughout the day), Sheena enrolled at New York University and hopped on the bus for NYC - even though she didn’t have the money to pay for the semester. Through determination and hard work, she consistently overcame every obstacle put in her path. Today she’s a Gen Y entrepreneur rock star. She’s definitely someone every young person in the audience can aspire to become.While a symbol herself, what struck me most about her presentation was how NYC served as the symbol that inspired her. She was going to “make it” in New York City, and that thought drove her.Although unintentional, I’m afraid that young people in the audience may also interpreted NYC as a symbol for success. In other words, they have to go off to the big city to achieve their dreams of entrepreneurial success. Maybe that’s just my interpretation, and I know Sheena didn’t intend it. But as a rural community fanatic, I worry about the constant messaging that preaches this idea.
I think Mike Knutson (the brains behind Reimagine Rural) overlooks the essence of Lindahl's archetypal story. Moving somewhere, not just NYC, to "make it" is fundamentally an entrepreneurial act. It's not the people born and raised in the Big Apple who make it great. It's the people who run through brick walls to get there and stick.
If you want entrepreneurship in your community, then you need more in-migration. Retention is all about making it easier to stay, lowering the barrier. Lindahl would do anything to move to New York. You don't often see the same determination to remain in your hometown. On the contrary, there tends to be a sense of entitlement. I Will Stay If ...
The mantra should be, "I will move there regardless." How many people are moving to your neck of the woods without a job in hand? There are rural outposts that fit that description. They are few and far between, but do exist.
Sticking around is a form of inertia. Ironically, the Rust Belt is home to some of the most inert populations in the entire United States. It's also a source of this country's most dynamic talent. People stopped coming to the Midwest to make it big. That's the biggest reason for the mega-region's dramatic decline.