The other day, I met Jim. He was a participant in a focus group in Madelia, Minnesota on the Madelia Model, and shared his vision for the community he has called home through the decades. Last month I described how the Madelia Model, is a new concept that creates a competitive advantage for rural communities through eco-industrial businesses and rewewable energy.
Back in the 1960's and early 70's, Jim owned one of three hardware stores in Madelia. He sold tools to area farmers, and had the market cornered on household appliances. His store sold and serviced appliances, a niche that no one else was filling at the time. Sadly, Jim watched as farmers were being forced off their farms during this era. His customers, friends and neighbors could no longer pay their bills, and left Jim with store debt in the hundreds of thousands.
One day in the 1970's, Jim changed careers, as he puts it. He just closed the doors to the hardware store, never to reopen. I don't think Jim's story is unique; it happened all across rural areas as small family farmers left, so did the businesses that supported them.
Today, in Madelia you can find one hardware store, down the block to where Jim's store once held tools and appliances, and the shelves in Jim's old hardware store are now stuffed with trinkets and dollar store deals. Madelia has not closed up, but it has changed. And now, people like Jim are looking to the future, and planning for a successful, sustainable community. The citizens of Madelia are participating in focus groups where they create community principles. These principles will be the voice of the community and will be used to attract new businesses and industries that fulfill the community's vision.