The Eastern New Mexico News - Serving Clovis, Portales and the Surrounding Communities

Opinion: Rural US still has a lot to offer nation


December 19, 2018

The New York Times ran an “op-ed” piece, an opinion not that of the newspaper, this week by an economist named Eduardo Porter. It’s about the declining state of rural America and what to do about it.

The answer: Not much you can do, at least in the opinion of the writer and others he quoted.

If tech jobs are the future, they seemed to think there is not much rural America can do. Their thinking says tech jobs tend to cluster around areas where tech workers are already plentiful. They aren’t in many rural areas, including Quay County and its neighbors.

In my most pessimistic moments as a teacher in Quay County, I looked around at the low-skill, low-pay jobs that dominate in the county and thought Quay County high school grads should get out-of-town bus tickets with their diplomas.

Some scholars Porter quoted had a variation on that idea: make it easier for rural transplants to find affordable housing in large cities, where the good jobs are.

Nationwide growth in recent years has bypassed rural areas, Porter noted, and there’s little denying that. Growth has occurred in places that already have money and people.

Does this mean rural communities are hopeless?

Porter, who admits he has not spent much time in small towns, doesn’t think so, even though no “magic bullets” have been found for the towns in the checkerboards of “flyover country.”

Neither do some other scholars. Other scholars dispute the findings of the rural-area pessimists that rural America is “homogenous,” in other words, all the same. In fact, the optimistic scholars say, there is a lot of diversity in rural America. That diversity means there are many solutions, not just one or two, that can help rural America regain economic strength.

Quay County participates in two regional “Stronger Economies Together” organizations — one with counties east and a little south of us, and one with counties north and east of us.

The idea of both is to see what counties can do with shared strengths. There are several such collaborations operating all over New Mexico, sponsored mainly by New Mexico State University with help from other state and federal agencies.

It’s too early to know how well these coalitions will grow economies, however, but incremental steps have begun.

Both regions that include Quay recently participated in a “Work Ready Communities Boot Camp” sponsored by ACT, the testing company, which has devised the Work Keys test to evaluate achievement levels in some basic workplace skills.

Quay County has been declared a “Work Ready Community” by ensuring that minimum numbers of individuals have qualified as work ready by their test scores.

If other counties can achieve this status, they can demonstrate more workforce potential than many think there is now.

That’s a significant first step, and those of us committed to living in rural counties have to keep trying, even if some very smart people who fly over us want to us to give up.

Steve Hansen writes about our life and times from his perspective of a retired Tucumcari journalist. Contact him at:


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