A new national study of how leaders can help small towns thrive examines three communities that are succeeding. One was Laramie, Wyoming.
Michael Powe, director of research for the National Main Street Center, said small towns have stereotypes to overcome.
"A lot of portrayals out there kind of paint rural places or small towns as monolithic," Powe said. "Largely dependent on traditional or extractive industries. It's a stereotype that they're places that are sort of in decline or doomed to decline."
Powe said instead Laramie—along with Wheeling, West Virginia and Emporia, Kansas—all leverage their unique assets. Laramie Main Street Director Trey Sherwood agreed.
"We had people go out and walk the boundaries of the district and go through the alleys, and make note of like, wow, nobody else has a footbridge like we have. Nobody else has this mixture of, like, railroad history and higher education history," said Sherwood.
Out of this, she said, grew ideas for the Laramie mural project and the town's bike rack art.
"What you see on the street today is homage to our railroad history, our love of the outdoors, our wildlife," Sherwood said. "And so those pieces, they become not only functional bike racks, but a narrative to let people know who we are as a community."
The study also looks at how Laramie has become a one-stop shop for entrepreneurs, helping them get on their feet, find spaces to expand and sell to the next owner when necessary.
During the pandemic, Sherwood also organized a collaboration with the University of Wyoming to create Cowboy Cash that put CARES Act money in the hands of students to spend specifically on downtown businesses.
She said the old paradigm is attracting new people or the "build it and they will come" concept. Now she says towns realize it's more important to create a community for the people who already love and live in the community.