Crossing The Glacial Divide: What The Summer In A Small Town

December 28, 2016

We’re joined today by guest writer Cameron Potts, vice president of public relations and community management at Deluxe Corporation. We’ve been working with Deluxe for the past two years on the Small Business Revolution campaign, and we’re happy to share his experience with you on the Peepshow today.

Since the presidential election on Nov. 8, much has been made of the glacial divide in this country. Are you on the left or on the right? Are you urban or rural? Are you Democrat or Republican? Pick one, because apparently we all need labels.

I work for a large corporation in Minnesota, a typically liberal state in the Union. I spent the majority of my summer in the traditionally right-leaning state of Indiana, working in the small town of Wabash, helping small business owners realize their potential. Did I notice a clear divide? Were we polar opposites?

I’m not going to lie, we didn’t talk a lot of politics, not that we shouldn’t, but that wasn’t why we took the Small Business Revolution to Wabash. This remarkable community, made up of passionate small business owners and community advocates won our $500,000 contest and gained the right to be in our eight-part web series. Just as any other small town in the country, or urban business district, Wabash is filled with hard working people who want to create meaningful, stable lives for their families.

Prior to the Main Street contest, I’d never heard of Wabash, Indiana. Most of my team hadn’t either. We live primarily in the suburbs of Minneapolis and St. Paul and we traveled to Wabash, 45 miles from the nearest metropolitan area, “nearly in the middle of nowhere” as one town leader described it. We kept confusing Wabash with Wabasha, Minnesota, the small town made famous in the Grumpy Old Men movies.

Yet instantly, we bonded. We weren’t urbanites and rural folk trying to find common ground. We weren’t city slickers and small towners left without ways to communicate. We were people who for whatever reason were meant to spend the summer of 2016 growing and learning from each other.

We have much in common

It would be natural for the small business owners of Wabash to be skeptical of Deluxe. Here is this $2 billion company coming in to give us $500,000 and film a “transformation.” Sure, they wanted to know what was in it for Deluxe, but they quickly found both our company and their community would reap the benefits of this relationship. Wabash residents embraced the challenge.

Despite a caustic national rhetoric that clearly pitted rural vs. urban communities, the real commonality we share is that our connection to community is greater than any political affiliation. Within its streets, the Wabash business community rallied together to enhance its chances to win our contest. Once we were there, we felt the common pull of a group of people who love to be together, to work together, to grow old together. They strive to succeed, to have life be a little easier. They thrive, they cry, they struggle and they love wholly and collectively.

Wabash: $500K Main Street Revival Finalist from Small Business Revolution on Vimeo.

Community takes on many shapes and sizes

Toward the end of the final episode of the Wabash Main Street series, Amanda Brinkman, Deluxe’s chief brand and communications officer tells a gathering of locals that she feels like she is coming home when she walk the streets of Wabash. At the time, she questioned aloud how they are able to do that. Now we know.

Small towns and rural America are not a throwback to a time we have lost. Progress marches on in many forms. We felt at home because there were no barriers in Wabash, no pretenses placed before us. They embraced the opportunity in front of them, but they saw no reason to change who they are or how they wanted to be portrayed in our series. This is us, take us for as we are. And we did.

The Small Business Revolution content campaign lives on the internet, giving people around the country the chance to celebrate the love of small businesses. Perhaps it is ironic that in capturing online content, we built a community because we had to physically come together. Glacial divides are harder to see when you walk right through them.