Don Albrecht’s primary responsibility as director of the Western Rural Development Center at Utah State University is to engage communities in their rural development efforts. As part of this effort, Albrecht has authored a book titled Rethinking Rural: Global Community and Economic Development in the Small Town West.
The premise of the book is that while the number of jobs in traditional industries has declined, technology has opened doors that were previously unavailable for rural workers. While visiting rural communities throughout Utah, he realized that rural approaches to economic development that worked for previous generations are not working today.
As an example, he points to the number of jobs decreasing dramatically in farming, logging, mining and manufacturing. “Modern technology makes it possible for one person to accomplish more than a group of people could in the past. Machines have replaced human labor,” Albrecht says.
This technology now is making it possible to live anywhere while staying connected and marketing your skills and your products. It has changed the rural way-of-life, decreasing employment in all major sectors of our economy that have traditionally been primary places where rural people worked.
In Utah’s rural communities, typically, when demand for one type of labor force decreases, new opportunities present themselves. Albrecht notes: “Traditional rural jobs are gone, and they’re not coming back. Small towns need to think differently about economic development and think outside the box.”
Today’s workforce requires getting education and training beyond high school. “I hope more people recognize, and encourage workers of all ages, to get additional training and education. It is needed more now than ever,” Albrecht says.
Preparing Utah’s labor force for 21st-century jobs is exactly what Utah State University is doing. Through its Rural Online Initiative Master Remote Work Professional Certificate, the university makes it possible to live in beautiful and remote places, while making a living. The program connects rural communities with remote work possibilities and offers workers flexible schedules while enjoying a greater work-life balance.
For Albrecht, the most enjoyable part of writing the book was listening to and learning from rural residents while witnessing the development and launch of creative ideas.
He is working on a second book, Building a Resilient Twenty-First Century Economy for Rural America. The new book looks at sectors traditionally dependent on rural economies and analyzes what happened to them over time.