Project Brings Rural Business Life to Light

Patty Cantrell
December 18, 2023

Rural Business Photo Stories Project

Bringing rural life to light – showing the everyday innovation and enterprise of people in rural Missouri – is the focus of the Rural Business Photo Stories Project at New Growth, a nonprofit community economic development organization based in west-central Missouri.

View Photo Stories

With support from Missouri Humanities, New Growth produced a series of photo narratives in 2023 that capture a day in the life of 12 different rural west-central Missouri businesses. New Growth’s goal is to begin building a more contemporary picture of rural Missouri that can inform and inspire locals and visitors alike.

Groundbreakers & Place makers

Photojournalist Clayton Steward helped New Growth showcase the reality of rural business dynamism through 12 entrepreneurs selected in consultation with regional START HERE Business Acceleration Network partners. The featured businesses are from the west-central Missouri counties of Bates, Benton, Dallas, Hickory, St. Clair, and Vernon. They represent a range of business types, from retail to manufacturing to farming.

The story of RiOak Design in the Benton County town of Cole Camp is one example. Its storefront shop in historic downtown Cole Camp is filled with items that have become widely popular: rustic signs with clever and inspirational sayings.

Yet in the background is the story that the photo narrative will tell: how owner Ashley Raetz helped build that home décor phenomenon.

Early on, she figured out how to market her designs through Amazon. One design in particular became an international bestseller. The Raetz family is now fulfilling orders full-time — all hand cut and painted — and managing the hub of local commerce and industry connections their historic building has become.

The Raetz family’s story is proof that rural entrepreneurs are taking risks and putting their hearts and dreams into living a satisfying rural life. Their work also ensures their rural places have amenities that help retain and attract new residents.

Another rural attraction is Daniel Horner’s venture, The Wine Journal. He started this restaurant and wine bar in Adrian upon returning to his hometown after a few years away. The Wine Journal was named after the town’s longtime local newspaper, The Adrian Journal, and is located in the former newspaper’s downtown building, which Horner has transformed. Providing a gathering spot to preserve and make memories is how The Wine Journal contributes to a sense of place that, literally and figuratively, keeps Adrian together.

Photos from Here

Sense of place is the primary point of the Rural Business Photo Stories project. In a practical way, it uses photography to help rural communities and organizations show where they are and who they serve.

“We know the importance of telling stories both locally and beyond about business and our local leaders,” said Hollie Elliot of Dallas County Economic Development Group. “Unfortunately, these stories don’t often get told due to time or ability. Small rural communities are often at or over capacity.”

New Growth seeks to aid in this dilemma, as Rural Business Photo Stories project photos not only feature businesses but also their communities, helping them convey rural activity, innovation, and enterprise.

High-quality, representative images are difficult for rural communities and organizations to find and afford. For example, stock photography is invariably metropolitan and rarely looks like rural Missouri. Yet visuals are everything in this digital age for communicating who you are and what you do.

Seeing rural Missouri’s businesses, and communities that people are building, sends the message that plenty is happening in rural towns; people are making personal and professional investments in the places they call home.

[A version of this article was published in the Fall/Winter 2023 issue of MO Humanities magazine.]