Survey of Rural Challenges 2021 results, analysis of themes from 2015 through today

To find out what rural people felt were their biggest challenges, SaveYour.Town and surveyed over 280 rural people in the fourth quarter of 2020. The results make up this fourth edition of the Survey of Rural Challenges.

Challenges stemming from the pandemic and economic crisis were ranked as less important than long-existing rural challenges.

Continuing challenges with losses in housing, business and population ranked as the highest rural community challenges. The ongoing lack of workers, stiff competition from online businesses, and marketing ranked as the highest challenge to rural small businesses.

Other preconception-changing results

Defying stereotyped media profiles of poverty, crime and drug abuse as the primary rural challenges, rural people ranked these lowest of all community challenges.

Although rural economic development often centers around jobs, it was one of the least-mentioned challenges in this survey.

For all the concern over small business lending, rural people say usable buildings are as hard or harder to find than loans.

Rural small business owners show little interest in business plan assistance, yet it remains a popular type of assistance offered to rural businesses.

More rural people said they needed an idea for a business to start than said they were worried their business would fail.

The pandemic and economic crisis not only did not dominate the responses, but it also did not rank in the top ten challenges.

Housing, business and population losses continue to rank as the highest rural community challenges.

The top five rural community challenges in 2021 were:

  1. Not enough good housing
  2. Downtown is dead
  3. Losing young people
  4. Need new residents
  5. Not enough volunteers

The lack of workers and difficulties with marketing continue to challenge rural small businesses.

Online competition continued to increase pressure on rural small businesses, climbing to the second-highest ranking challenge.

Despite the pandemic and economic crisis, rural business owners ranked the likelihood of business failure and the inability to find a business loan as some of the lowest of all listed challenges.

Crisis relief loan packages may have played a role in supporting small businesses in late 2020 as this survey was being conducted. On previous surveys, inability to find a business loan scored from the middle to low: ranging from sixth to ninth of the eleven listed challenges, before dropping to eleventh this time.

The top five challenges ranked by rural small businesses were:

  1. Can’t find good employees
  2. Online competition
  3. Tried later hours without success
  4. Marketing isn’t working
  5. Need to sell my business


About Becky McCray

Becky started Small Biz Survival in 2006 to share rural business and community building stories and ideas with other small town business people. She and her husband have a small cattle ranch and are lifelong entrepreneurs. Becky is an international speaker on small business and rural topics.

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