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Annette Tait & Katy "Kate" Kassian

Five good reasons to attend a rural conference

Has someone from your town has been to a rural conference lately? If not, you've got plenty to learn!

Take it from us — rural conferences and summits can change your community. Send someone who loves your town or area, is willing to go in with a positive attitude and is ready to absorb information like a sponge. He or she will come back inspired by the people they meet and the tons of ideas and examples you can put to use in your community. And that excitement is contagious!

If that's not enough to get your interest up, here are five good reasons you should participate in — not just attend — a rural conference near you:

• Rural success stories. Hear first-hand from other communities about what they are doing, how it's working and how they learned to be idea-friendly. When we talk to others struggling with the same small-town problems, we discover new ideas and ways of achieving goals and dreams for our own communities.

• Visibility. Just because your community may be off-the-beaten-path doesn't mean you have to be "out-of-sight and out-of-mind." Get — and stay — in people's minds by telling your stories, showcasing your assets and building new outlets. The whiz-bang job you do with digital marketing is great, but nothing beats the connections you make in person. People talk — and post, and tweet — and spread the word far and wide.

• Community Connections. Rural and small towns have a unique way of forming their own communities outside their city boundaries, often over vast distances through commerce and family ties. Connecting at rural conferences strengthens those ties and makes us stronger, more resilient and better able to weather whatever storms come our way. Where people gather, community happens!

• The energy of like-minded people. It's easy to feel like you're "going it alone" when you don't get out to see what others are doing. It's almost electric to be in a room full of people who, like you, want to make a difference in their communities and will help you see that your vision really is within reach.

• New ideas. A hundred people can — and will — take away something a little different from what they heard from the same expert. Get new perspectives, expand your own creative processes, and get excited about trying relevant, affordable and do-able ideas to make our own communities even better places to live and work.

Bonus reason: Have fun! Take some time to explore and enjoy before or after the day's events — make it a working vacation! Added bonus — drive to and from the event so you can drop in on small towns and rural areas along the way. Who knows what new ideas you might find?

And don't even start on the "we can't because..." track. As mama always said, "Can't, never could, and you're not trying." Put on your positive pants and figure out how you CAN afford to go.

Seek sponsorships from local banks, businesses or community groups — learning how to thrive as a community is in their best interest, too. Or go cooperative — partner with other nearby small towns to send a representative to bring back information everyone can use.

Either way, it's an investment — new ideas for creative housing, marketing, improving public spaces, filling empty buildings, adding pop-up-shops, gaining funding sources and other opportunities can benefit everyone in your rural town or area.

Every community, no matter the size, has something of value. What are your hidden assets? Check out a rural conference or summit near you to discover your untapped resources and how to leverage them.

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