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Making rural communities desirable places to live is not the whole answer. If there is no economic opportunity in an area, young families can’t live there no matter how much they might want to.

However, economic opportunity is more likely to be created in attractive places to live because they draw young families and entrepreneurs who start new farms and businesses and revitalize existing enterprises.

When we are talking about rural development today, we discuss innovations and improvements in education, physical and social infrastructure, entrepreneurship and other aspects which widen and enrich rural life.

While the identity of the rural area should not disappear, being competitive is necessary.

Most farm and ranch communities don’t have mountains, lakes or shopping malls. They aren’t likely to become the next tourist-filled Metro area and most of us wouldn’t want that.

But each of our Hancock County communities has assets, strengths, and opportunities we can build on to draw people – having our son and daughters come back to raise their families and attracting others seeking a rural life style.

Those assets range from natural amenities, to strong schools, to friendly neighbors. The best place to start is with existing strengths.

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What does it mean to be competitive? What assets can Hancock County offer?

Strong Small School Districts - The schools in Hancock County have made the commitment to provide quality education. This is a powerful advantage in attracting families who want quality education for their children. Research says small schools have the best educational outcomes for most children. Communities need to support our schools as they face the challenge of increasing financial pressures.

Local Commitment - Things in rural communities just work better. People work together, get involved and make things better because they care and have ownership in their communities. Communities must continue to enhance their future by working together to solve problems, launch new initiatives and make their community a better place to live.

High Speed Internet – High speed internet has become an important factor in the “Quality of Life” for young people. Hancock County has a valuable asset in our fiber providers and is a draw to our young people because it gives them the opportunity to connect to the outside world without giving up the opportunities of rural living.

Infrastructure - This is the most expensive thing for our communities. Providing shovel ready sites for those businesses we are trying to attract, updating and enhancing road systems, water, sewer and utilities must continue to be done. Many of our communities are finding ways to accomplish this by partnering with various funding programs and using out of the box thinking to grow their communities. Incentives are needed to allow our current businesses to expand and to also attract new businesses.

Access to Nature and a Quality Environment - Access to uncrowded natural land is increasingly hard to find. Hancock County has valuable resources and public access to hunting, fishing, biking, and snowmobiling.

Hancock County is a phenomenal place to live, work and play. Let’s continue to work together to attract new businesses and people to our communities as well in order to grow our possibilities. I think it can be said the county’s future rests on rural economic development.

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