Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Small Towns Lure Homeowners by Selling Peace, Quiet Newcomers Get $10,000 Grants

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Small Towns Lure Homeowners by Selling Peace, Quiet Newcomers Get $10,000 Grants

Article excerpt

VILLA GROVE, Ill. -- In an idle farm field on the edge of this one-stoplight town, Mayor Ron Hunt is sowing the seeds of a rural revival.

Where once crops sprouted from this field in east-central Illinois, Hunt imagines single-family homes for young families, condominiums for the retired, new businesses and a sports complex.

Hunt says the setting is bucolic, the schools are excellent and have plenty of empty desks, and the land is cheap.

So how does Villa Grove, population 2,700, hope to make it happen? By offering $10,000 grants to people who buy a plot and build a house within a year.

Using financial incentives and simple marketing campaigns that promote idyllic small-town life, communities throughout Illinois are attempting to reshape themselves by attracting new residents. Hunt and others think they have tapped into something -- even if these towns often lack some of the basic needs of young families and sit miles from the nearest cities. Villa Grove is about 20 miles south of Champaign-Urbana with little more than farmland between the two.

"I think people are tired of the rat race. They want a nice, quiet place to live," Hunt says. "For young families ... this puts them in a new home."

"I think people are willing to drive an extra 10 or 15 minutes to live in these places," says Norman Walzer, the director of the Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs at Western Illinois University. "You can get the equivalent space for maybe half the price and I think people have begun to accept that payoff."

Jack Piper was concerned about the departure of young families and the

depressed property values in his hometown of Ohio, Ill., so he led a successful redevelopment project there. He now runs his own development company from his home and helps other towns, including Villa Grove, do the same.

"Every town used to look for a widget factory to create jobs but we didn't know how to do that," he said of his experience with his hometown. "We kind of came up with this idea, 'What if we offer incentives to families rather than factories?"'

Piper says 19 new homes have been constructed in the town of Ohio and more than 30 new families drawn there in recent years, pushing its population from 428 to over 500. …

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