Changing the Rural Missouri Picture

Patty Cantrell
June 11, 2023


Every day, small businesses across rural Missouri put their creative energy into providing goods and services that their communities want and need. They are not waiting for outside companies to do it for them; they know they can employ themselves and each other to make their places great.

This fact appears lost on most of the world when you take a look online for rural Missouri. Farmland and old buildings are about all you will see.

This invisibility is a problem for rural communities and the state of Missouri. The active and innovative reality of rural places must show up better for these communities to attract deserved attention and investment. Missouri also needs investment in rural people and places to help power up its new entrepreneurship strategy for economic development.

Changing the picture of rural Missouri — showing the great diversity and creative energy in place across 85% of the state — is the vision behind rural community development corporation New Growth’s new Rural Business Photo Stories project.

New Growth Rural Business Photo Stories project supported by Missouri Humanities Council

April Dougherty looks at the television while putting together a bridal bouquet on June 5, 2023 at her home as part of her Hickory County April Blooms flower business.

This summer New Growth and photojournalist Clayton Steward are working with the support of the Missouri Humanities to produce a set of photo stories that capture a day in the life of 14 rural west central Missouri businesses. An inspiration for New Growth’s project comes from St. Louis, where amateur and professional photographers have come together to document and build identity and awareness for the city’s 79 individual neighborhoods. Photo Flood St. Louis is building a multi-faceted portrait of the city that is ever growing.

New Growth Rural Business Photo Stories project with Missouri Humanities Council

Luke Johnson of Warsaw Adventures paddles through the water while leading a June 17, 2023, sunset tour near Warsaw. Groups can paddle while listening to Johnson’s expertise and knowledge of the local flora and fauna and facts about the area.

The Rural Business Photo Stories series is a start in the direction of making rural communities, their entrepreneurs and innovators, more visible not only to policymakers and others with resources but to rural communities themselves, as well.

New Growth Rural Business Photo Stories supported by Missouri Humanities Council

Christina Popejoy (watches as Emily Waters applies a thin layer of paint to a piece of furniture for Waters using a new technique on June 9, 2023 at Market 116 in Buffalo, MO.

“We want to help build a contemporary profile for rural communities in our west central Missouri region,” said Patty Cantrell, New Growth Director of Outreach and Development. “Better imagery from rural Missouri can build appreciation for and investment in rural Missouri.”

New Growth Rural Business Photo Stories project with Missouri Humanities Council

An employee at W.F. Norman Corporation in Nevada carries molten metal June 14, 2023, toward an antique rope drop hammer. Ceiling tiles and other W.F. Norman products are hand-stamped from sheet metal on original presses.

New Growth’s Rural Business Photo Stories project will conclude in the fall. The photo stories will be posted at and shared with newspapers statewide through the Missouri Press Association. Contact project director Patty Cantrell for more information:, 660-476-2185 ext. 6500.

[COVER PHOTO: Brian Ainley talks to Quari LaRoe in his office on June 9, 2023 at ABC Motors in Buffalo, MO.]

Photo credits: Clayton Steward

New Growth’s Rural Business Photo Stories project is in partnership with the Missouri Humanities and with support from the Missouri Humanities Trust Fund.