A Louisiana expat sends this story of a small north Louisiana town on its last legs:
While people traveling down Louisiana 15 could actually pass through Gilbert and not realize it, Sharp said the village has more than meets the eye.
She said it’s the people who reside in Gilbert that make it worth stopping.
“I love Gilbert. Everybody as a community comes together here and that’s what makes a town,” Sharp said.
Ezell said the village continues to be close-knit. Whenever there is a death or an emergency, the entire village rallies to help one another.
The question is, for how long?
“There is no industry in Gilbert. Farming is pretty much it,” Carroll said. “If you go to school and get a degree, or if you want to be any kind of professional, you have to leave town.”
Gilbert officials are concerned these youth may opt to move somewhere else, leaving the town with few people to lead in the future.
“There’s nothing really here for the young people to do — they have to leave to go to work. Other than farming and dirt business, there’s not much for them,” Stephens said.
“It’s a high concern of mine because in 10 to 15 years, there won’t be anyone left. As long as I can keep going, I won’t let that happen, but right now there’s nothing here to keep our children.
“In the next 10 to 15 years, a lot of these towns will just wither away.”
I wonder: will this be my town too? There is little economic diversity here, and the local political leaders can’t get their act together on development. Someone told me the other day that the police jury (the governing body in the parish) refused to approve a zoning request for a housing development in a certain part of the parish, supposedly because they want development to be focused on another part of the parish. I don’t know if this is true, but if so, it’s a classic example of short-sightedness. There is a chronic affordable housing shortage here. We need places for middle and lower middle income people to live. Without housing, how can we attract new industries here? And so forth.
People in our town say that politics is holding the place back, regarding economic development. I hear this all the time, from all different kinds of people. It sounds like Gilbert’s problem is somewhat different from my town’s, but the overall point — that towns die from loss of the next generation, and you lose the next generation when they have no way to support themselves and their family — is a challenge common to many small towns.
This past weekend in Natchitoches, I spoke to several old friends who talked about how small towns can be really great and affordable places for people in particular lines of work — especially those who can work via broadband. There’s a guy from southern California who teaches at my old school, who is said to have up and moved with his family to the middle of north Louisiana to teach because he couldn’t afford California life anymore. If you can work online, or have a specialized skill that can be utilized locally, why not? On the other hand, not everybody can work by broadband, and a community that builds its future on broadband-dependent jobs will have no place for working-class people, except in service jobs. Still, better than nothing, right?
This is a problem.
I wonder, readers: are any of you living in small towns that are growing and healthy, and navigating this challenge well? If so, what are they doing right? If not, what are they doing wrong?