Investing in your home town

For those fortunate to have been successful in life, there is the great privilege of being able to financially support their local community or a cause close to their heart. 

I was reminded of this while visiting Spearville in Kansas recently.  Despite only having a population of 900, this small agricultural town located seventeen miles from Dodge City, is benefiting from a $20 million legacy generating around $200,000 in annual revenue for distribution.

Yes, I have to admit that it took me a moment to process when I first heard that staggering amount of $20 million.  But then I started focusing on the intent which everyone is capable of.

A lifelong resident of Spearville, Tom Feist founded Feist Publications in 1978 which grew into a highly successful business and a major employer for this small community and across the State of Kansas. Prior to his death in 2011 he set in motion something that he knew would continue to give back to his home town well into the future.  A Board of Directors was hand-picked by Tom and his wishes clearly stipulated on what type of projects the Foundation should support.

Operating since 2014, only time will tell how Tom’s legacy will play out as proposals from local community groups are processed and implemented.  Given his business background, knowledge of the community and careful consideration, I suspect it will be far more effective than any government grant program. Already there are signs that the declining population is reversing (the 2010 census noted the population as only 773 while the 2017 figures are estimated by county officials at around 900).

Tom also gave generously during his lifetime.  We see it all the time in Australia as well.  Individuals and businesses investing in community projects and assisting start-ups in their home town.

And the potential doesn’t end there.

When it comes to financing community initiatives and start-up businesses to strengthen a rural town it is natural to look to those who live locally but don’t discount those who may have moved away.

No matter how long ago you lived in a rural town, there is always a strong bond and memories that can never be erased particularly if you were raised or started your business career there.  This is why we have seen founder of the Allied Medical Group, Dr Geoffrey Edelsten, chatting with locals at the Birchip races. His first posting as a country general practitioner was in Birchip!

It never ceases to amaze me when I am approached at city events by former country residents keen to chat about their home towns.  They have fond memories and are genuinely interested in what is happening.  Potentially they could be your biggest investor …. but only if you stay in touch and let them know what your plans are.

This is the beauty of social media which allows ex residents to follow local news from afar.  It is also why we should widely consult on community initiatives and let people know what they can support. You never know who is talking to who and what they would like to support.

When we have the capacity to give, there is a great deal of satisfaction in being able to support something bigger than yourself, whether it be giving a helping hand to someone starting out in business or upgrading a community facility.

And, if you don’t have the capacity for your own foundation or trust, and a tax-deductible receipt is an enticement, then the Foundation for Rural & Regional Renewal or your local Community Foundation will always be happy to have a conversation.

Tom Feist 

Tom Feist Foundation   



Author of ‘Entrepreneurship: It’s Everybody’s Business,’ Kerry works with small businesses and rural communities to help them embrace new opportunities. READ MORE