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Douglas Burns: Why a Rural Iowa Day Is Longer

On Tuesday, we talked about the “rural brain drain” — the mass exodus of young achievers from small-town, rural America. What they’ve left behind is a swath of small towns in decline.

One key in reversing the trend is to bring the smart kids back. Our guest Douglas Burns, of Carroll, Iowa, is one such “returner.” He went to journalism school at Northwestern University and reported from Washington, DC for several years before returning to Carroll to write for his family’s newspaper, the Daily Times Herald. In this guest post, he makes his pitch for why living in rural Iowa is better.

In promoting Carroll, Iowa, we talk a lot about what we have. There are the good schools. There’s the work ethic.

Jack Wardell, our parks director, can make a pretty darned good argument that recreational amenities play a key role in luring and keeping businesses and employees in Carroll.

We have many churches, and few serious crimes. There are more soup suppers than armed robberies.

All of these things are splendid.

But it’s time we talked about something we Carroll residents generally don’t have: a commute.

As a result of our minutes-only drives to and from work we literally have more time in our days than others in the nation — and the state for that matter.

The time other people spend driving we spend living.

As a former resident of the Washington, D.C., area I did the commute thing for four years.

It took me about 45 minutes to get to work in the district, and at least 45 minutes to get back home to Arlington, Va., especially if I left the office at a reasonable hour.

That was stressful driving, too.

Now I can get from Hillcrest Drive here in Carroll to the Daily Times Herald in less than five minutes.

I’m fond of telling my citified friends that I have a one-song commute, meaning whatever tune is on the radio when I leave for work is generally still playing when I park outside the newspaper.

Because I rack up just 10 minutes of driving from home to work and back, instead of a 90-minute two-way commute, I have about 80 minutes more each workday or 400 minutes more a week or 1,600 minutes more a month or 20,000 more minutes a year in Carroll than I did in D.C.

That’s 333 hours each year that I get back by living in a place where I don’t have to commute.

That’s eight weeks of work at 40 hours per week.

That’s astounding.

Why aren’t more employers locating their offices here? Computers and phones work as well in Iowa as they do in New York City.

We even have competition between high-speed Internet service providers now, with one firm, Western Iowa Networks, routing Asian-speed fiber-optics to our homes and businesses.

Our recruiting motto could be: “Move to Carroll, Iowa: We give you eight more weeks of work.”

There are advantages in one’s personal life as well.

Since I’m not commuting, I can watch 166 more movies each year.

I can read a lot more books.

Let’s see, if I read at the very reasonable pace of 30 pages per hour, I can read twenty 500-page books in a year instead of sitting in traffic.

Throw in some paperback fiction and that increases dramatically.

Think about how smart your kids would be if you had an extra 80 minutes to read to them and talk to them each and every day of the week.

What about exercise?

Instead of spending that time inching along in traffic or standing next to someone with a bad cough on the subway like they do in the cities, I can run six miles a day at the leisurely pace of 10 minutes a mile — and then have 20 minutes to do some sit-ups and pull-ups.

And who says that all this time has to be spent efficiently and wisely?

Some people could look at that 80 minutes a day as an opportunity to watch more basketball and football on television or eat more pizza or drink more beer or have more sex.

Hey, it’s your time, and this is a free country.

We just happen to have more clock to enjoy the freedom than do the commuting saps of Los Angeles and New York and even Des Moines and Omaha.

Douglas Burns

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