By Stan Ralston

Hello, northwest Oklahoma,

My name is Stan Ralstin, and this is my first chance to greet you in this format.

I am a community and rural economic development specialist with Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service. I will become a contributor to this section of the paper along with regulars Bart Cardwell, Roger Gribble, Greg Highfill and J.C. Hobbs.

First of all, let me introduce myself. I was born and raised on a farm north of Guymon. After graduating from Guymon High School, I went to Oklahoma State and received a bachelor's and master's in agriculture economics. I moved to Enid in 1985 and took this position with OCES, so I am a 20-year veteran in the rural development business. I married a wonderful local girl, Carol Heyer, in 1990, and we now have two wonderful children, a son, Aaron, 12, and a daughter, Kamika, 8.

So, what is it that I do? I work with anyone and any group that is interested in maintaining and improving the economy and the quality of life in rural Oklahoma.

How do I go about accomplishing this task? I am available to work with anyone and any group, community, organization or other entity to help them be more effective in their economic development efforts and in some cases help these groups define their direction and goals. This is accomplished in several ways. We have a rural development team that provides data and information along with analysis, technical assistance and educational programs in the areas in which we have expertise, and we work with many other partnering agencies and organizations that we can refer to when needed.

There are four basic service areas that we break our programs into: community economic, small business and tourism development; community services and infrastructure; rural health planning; and local government education and assistance, primarily with county government.

This sounds like a full plate, and it is. I serve 37 counties in western Oklahoma, basically west of I-35. So, I like to simplify things as much as possible. My philosophy is that all efforts to improve local communities can be accomplished by caring about your community.

I believe all economic development strategies to create jobs and income can be summed up in the word CARE. A community can decide to Create, Attract, Retain or Expand existing jobs.

Ss my time to contribute to this column rolls around, I will be providing information, data and statistics on such things as agritourism, e-commerce, entrepreneurship, value-added agriculture and many other timely topics.

I love my job, and I have a deep desire to maintain and enhance opportunities for others to share the rural quality of life I enjoy and where I chose to raise my children. I have worked with communities, groups and organizations in the counties within the circulation area of this paper, and I know there are many more opportunities to work with others.

Many rural communities are dying, but many are surviving and even thriving, and after 20-plus years of providing assistance, I feel that a lot of success can be summed up in a quote from the ancient Roman poet Virgil: "They can because they think they can."

I can be reached at the OSU Area Extension Office in Enid or by calling the OSU Extension Office in the county in which you live. If you want to see more detail of the services we provide, you can go to www.rd.okstate.edu.



Ralstin is Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service community and rural economic development specialist.



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