We are beyond pleased to share this interview with our friend Chris Merrett from the IL Institute for Rural Affairs. Chris is the Director of the Institute, which is located on the campus of Western IL University in Macomb, IL. The institute oversees research, outreach, teaching, and policy development that is comprised of 20 community development faculty and professionals. He serves on the Governor’s Rural Affairs Council and is the Chairperson of Rural Partners, which has raised over $6 million in external grant funding to support community and economic development outreach and research. Chris has researched and edited books on the topics of cooperatives and community development, and has published a range of articles on topics such as value-added agriculture, rural land use, social justice, and rural community and economic development.
The essential questions we asked Chris in our interview:
- What is the IL Institute of rural affairs?
- What are the challenges to making a business work in rural America/Forgottonia?
- What advice would you give young people who aspire to be an entrepreneur/run their own business in a small town?
Charts and Graphs that Chris shared in our interview:
Farms and Farm Decline
|Figure 6. Population Decline, 2000-2016||Figure 7. Median Age by County, 2017|
Links mentioned in our interview with Chris:
- Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs
- What is a CEO? – Midland Institute for Entrepreneurship based in Effingham, IL. CEO stands for “Creating Entrepreneurial Opportunities” and serves high school juniors and seniors from public and private high schools
- Accion in Chicago – A microlender that helps communities grow by investing in entrepreneurs who build businesses and generate jobs in their neighborhoods; regardless of their backgrounds
- Justine Peterson – Based in St. Louis, offers micro-loans and assists in developing business plans to assist the planning process. Many of their clients have existing informal businesses but do not have written business plans.
- Illinois Small Business Development Center (SBCD) – Based in Macomb, IL, they provide free, confidential advising and training to help entrepreneurs and businesses start, grow, and sustain their businesses
- Canton, IL Chamber of Commerce – Our local chamber of commerce that works to improve the community and business climate of our community.
Audio clips included in this episode come from the following:
- Agriculture Undersecretary, Dallas Tonsager
- Agriculture Department Chief Economist, Robert Johansson
- Former Iowa Governor Terry Branstad
- Rubie Watson – a social anthropologist and former Director of Harvard University’s Peabody Museum of Archeology and Ethnology. She is the author of the book “The Closers: Institutional Collapse in the Rural Midwest.” She grew up on a small Illinois farm and now lives in Iowa City and rural Illinois.
- Bloomberg TV – News story about paying people to move to small towns
- MSNBC – News Story – Digital Gap Between Rural & Urban Americans