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Each year, I do a rural small business trends article for Anita Campbell's Small Biz Trends. Here's the 2011 edition. (Go ahead, read it, come back.) I like to bring some bonus trends to you, items that don't fit into that article, but are important for rural economies, along with some more analysis from me. I appreciate you following all year, and this is your bonus for subscribing.

You can download a PDF Report of all 20 trends

Special thanks to Marianna Hayes Chapman (Co-Founder of Results Revolution), Walt Williams, and Eric Tobin (Community Development Director of the Generation E Institute) for sharing your thoughts on the upcoming trends. You helped me crystallize these ideas. 

Social Media
Because I do so much around the social media space, I get asked for social media trends for small towns. I do have three trends for you to watch in 2011.

1. Websites: Your website still matters.
In 2010, we saw big international brands promote their Facebook page in place of their own website. (It was not such a great idea for small businesses without the same powerful name recognition.) That will continue in 2011, but the next trend is already emerging, and it makes more sense for small town business. The website is once again important, even to big brands. It's the one place to integrate all social presences together. So don't throw away your site in favor of a Facebook page.

2. Check Ins: Shared experiences beyond location.
Location was the big trend in 2010. Location alone, though, is not enough. It also matters what you are doing. So we're seeing new connections formed around shared activities regardless of location. GetGlue is starting it with check-ins for content, like movies or music. (Like watching a movie with a friend, even if you're miles apart.) I expect this trend to bloom with more active experiences, like biking, etc. This has huge potential for small towns to reach out beyond geographic boundaries, as people form tight knit communities around their favorite experiences.

3. Social Q&A: Asking your friends made marketable.
Everyone who builds a decent network online starts using it for quick question and answer. Haven't you asked a question of your friends on Facebook or Twitter? We crowdsource answers this way because we trust the people we've connected with. Building on that idea, services like Aardvark and Quora are growing. Even the relatively venerable professional network, LinkedIn, has an Answers section. Social Q&A is the darling of the moment amongst the Twitterati, so the popularity of any particular service could wax or wane. If you're wanting to be a resource on a subject, watch for the Q&A services that are the best fit for you.

The big one: Natural Resources
Turning to small town business, I think there is one big trend, one overarching thing to remember, and that is the role of natural resources.

4. Natural Resources: The next wave of opportunity.
Natural resources play the central role in our opportunities, our tourism, our entrepreneurship, and of course our agriculture. How do we bring together entrepreneurship, innovation, and the protection of natural resources for our residents, our visitors, and our legacy? Ultimately, how do we retain more of the economic benefit locally while developing these resources? (hint: grow entrepreneurs around these resources.) If you are looking to explore the potential of natural resources in your area, start with your local RC&D council.

Three Examples from Natural Resources:
5. Green Jobs: Ag is a center of opportunity.
Green is huge. Ag is everywhere in small towns. Put those together, and you have a business opportunity. The Agricultural Utilization Research Institute recently issued a "Green jobs in food production" report. Had you really thought about the number and diversity of entrepreneurial opportunities just around green jobs in agriculture, production and processing? There's lots more opportunity in this trend. Watch for it. 

6. Water: Dig your well before you're thirsty.
This is a returning trend from last year. Water rights are a big fight now, and are just going to get bigger. If you have a water-dependent or water-sensitive business, pay careful attention and get involved.

7. Wildlife: More people are drawn to it.
I brought this trend back from the 2009 report. We don't have new numbers, but the importance is still there. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 87.5 million U.S. residents fished, hunted, or watched wildlife in 2006, up from 82 million in 2001. All together, they spent $122 million, primarily in rural areas where you find most of the wildlife. Small town businesses have opportunities to provide the individuals with more services, not only lodging and food, but also equipment, and even other activities for families.

People Trends
Small town people. Are we just the same as big city people? Well, in some ways. Here are three trends that apply to rural folk the same as urbanites this year.

8. Adult Learning: Demand for practical training is increasing.
More people are turning to do-it-yourself solutions, especially around the home. That means more adults enrolling in practical courses at CareerTechs, community colleges and similar institutions. Boston has noticed this trend, but I'm betting it's even stronger in rural areas. The online signal to watch: Webinars: suddenly everyone is offering them. It's great for rural folks wanting to learn without driving to the big city. It's also a great time for small businesses to be teaching their customers.

9. Small Luxuries:
It has been a tough few years. People are tired of cutting back and conserving. With a strong rural economic outlook, watch for people to start treating themselves with a bit of luxury. Besides, we're not the same as our Depression-survivor grandparents. We're more willing to spend on ourselves. This one popped up in a food trends article, and it's applicable to many different rural businesses.

10. Baby Boomers: Delaying migration.
Last year, I told you that the USDA is predicting more Baby Boomers will retire to small towns than previous generations. This trend is being delayed by an economy that keeps people in general from moving, but I predict it will be back. Keep an eye out for it.

If you enjoyed these trends, you might like to have the handy PDF Report of all 20 trends

Thanks for coming along for another year,

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