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Small towns are still open for business, thanks to those who believe they're worth it

Losing the bank in town seemed like it could be the beginning of the end for the community. Instead, it revealed that there are still some business leaders who believe in small towns.

A bank at left, with the words Dakota Heritage Bank on the side of the brick external wall, has vehicles parked outside of it. A cafe in the distance to the right also has vehicles outside.
Dakota Heritage Bank took over the space in Medina, North Dakota, vacated by Choice Financial in the summer of 2021. Another financial institution, Hometown Credit Union, also moved to the town, and other businesses have continued to grow and change.
Jenny Schlecht / Agweek
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Less than a year ago, I wrote a column lamenting the fact that our town — small on the scale of all towns in the world but pretty typical for North Dakota — was no longer going to have a bank .

It was kind of a low time around here. People were wondering how our businesses would adjust to having nowhere to make deposits on a regular basis and nowhere to get change. Our farmers and ranchers were concerned about having to go farther to sign papers or to find bankers who understood their operations. Our nonprofit and school groups had to figure out how to handle their fundraising affairs half an hour from the bank rather than a few blocks away. And a lot of us were concerned about the older population in the community, many of whom are not interested in learning about online banking, having to hit the interstate to handle their affairs.

No one really wanted to say it, but it was chilling to think that maybe losing the bank was just a step toward the demise of another once vibrant small town.

When I wrote that column, I had almost immediate comments from people in banking, asking what their institutions could do to serve us. I didn't really have any answers other than, "Well, you could open a branch here." I think most of us were pessimistic and didn't think we'd ever have a full-service bank again, but we were hoping at least for somewhere that would be open a couple days a week.

But, thankfully, there are still people and businesses who believe in small towns.

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Within months, not one but two banks opened locations in Medina: Dakota Heritage Bank and Hometown Credit Union. They've gotten involved in the community in various ways, like participating in events, donating to various causes and holding open houses. They've reached out to farmers and ranchers and helped set up operating loans and provide other necessary, timely services.

And not only that, but our other businesses seem to be thriving as well. We have two bars and two butcher shops, all of which seem to be doing well, based on the cars parked outside. The daycare is bustling. And the cafe, which a local man had purchased and ran just to keep it from closing , was resold to another family with local ties and remodeled. It re-opened just last month. Others in the community have started or expanded small businesses.

It's not always easy to live in a small town. I still plan the bulk of my grocery shopping for days when I go to Jamestown or Bismarck, half an hour or an hour away, respectively. If I need shoes, I'm heading to Bismarck or Fargo much of the time to find what I'm looking for. Our doctors, dentists, eye doctors, insurance agents and many other services require a drive down the interstate. I never realized, when I lived in larger communities, how easy I had it.

But it is reassuring once again to know we can handle our financial affairs right here, and so can our local businesses — places where we can pick up some of our groceries, grab a meal or get our hair cut. Having a bank in the community is a huge asset that we may have sometimes taken for granted.

We need rural revitalization if we want our small towns to survive. And while that might mean getting legislatures and other government institutions to pay a little more attention to our needs, at the end of the day, to have livable communities we need business leaders who believe those of us who live in small towns and remote areas are worth serving. Thank you to those of us who find the quality in serving rural communities.

Jenny Schlecht is Agweek's editor. She lives on a farm and ranch in Medina, North Dakota, with her husband and two daughters. She can be reached at jschlecht@agweek.com or 701-595-0425.

Opinion by Jenny Schlecht
Jenny Schlecht is the director of ag content for Agweek and serves as editor of Agweek, Sugarbeet Grower and BeanGrower. She lives on a farm and ranch near Medina, North Dakota, with her husband and two daughters. You can reach her at jschlecht@agweek.com or 701-595-0425.
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