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Titus County, Texas hosts first NACo Prosperity Summit

Photo caption: During the Titus County Prosperity Summit, local and regional leaders worked on visioning and brainstorming exercises to bolster their regional food system.

On April 8, Titus County located in the heart of northeast Texas with approximately 32,000 residents convened over 40 local leaders to host a NACo County Prosperity Summit. The goal of the day-long summit was to strengthen the county and region's sustainable agriculture sector by connecting the region's assets to market demand in creative ways that build rooted wealth for local people, places and firms. Selected through a competitive application process, Titus County was chosen to host the summit because of local leaders' interest in a regional approach to economic development and improving quality of life in the region. Specifically, Titus County identified an opportunity to create more agriculture-based jobs and increase residents' access to healthy and local food.

2ndpic.jpg Deb Markley, the summit's expert facilitator, worked with a small group of attendees on a value chain map for local produce.

The Titus County Prosperity Summit was the first of five summits that NACo is convening in 2015. With support from the Ford Foundation, these summits aim to convene local leaders to strengthen regional relationships and identify ways to deepen and sust ain economic development activities.

One of the most important outcomes of the Titus County Prosperity Summit was getting local and regional leaders all in the same room. Attendees at the event represented the Texas counties of Bowie, Camp, Cass, Delta, Franklin, Hopkins, Lamar, Morris, Red River and Titus; Miller County, Ark.; Northeast Texas Community College; the Ark-Tex Council of Governments; and the North East Texas Economic Development District. County staff and elected officials, local business owners, farmers, community college representatives, regional leaders and community-based organizations all joined in to discuss ways to promote locally sourced agriculture including supporting agribusinesses, increasing local and regional market opportunities and exploring community level access to growing fresh foods, such as community gardens and gardening classes in schools. Titus County Judge Brian Lee explained, "One current market opportunity we identified is building a regional food system infrastructure. In order to do this, we know we have to strengthen our regional relationships to help further refine our market opportunities. The Titus County Prosperity Summit helped to bring partners together, identify missing links in our value chain and identify next steps for further explanation."

3rdpic.jpgSummit attendees identify their existing assets and group them based on the eight forms of capital individual, intellectual, cultural, social, natural, political, financial and built.

The Titus County Prosperity Summit was facilitated and led by Deb Markley, Co-Founder and Managing Director of the Center for Rural Entrepreneurship. Ms. Markley introduced summit attendees to the WealthWorks framework and walked them through a number of visioning and mapping exercises to strengthen local and regional connections within the county's agribusiness sector. To add local context and describe a real-world application of the framework, Tami Hornbeck, Managing Director of Community Initiatives at Communities Unlimited, also joined the event. Ms. Hornbeck shared her story of Farm to Fuel, a major biofuel initiative in her hometown of DeWitt, Ark., that has created new jobs and helped support energy independence for participating communities.

Attendees spent the day working on intensive exercises to ide ntify existing and underutilized assets, map food system value chains, explore new stakeholder opportunities and identify next steps to pursue after the summit.

A t the event conclusion, summit participants set goals to reach out to populations of the community that were not as well-represented at the summit, including more regional farmers, minority and disadvantaged county residents and faith-based groups . Chris Brown, the executive director of the Ark-Tex Council of Governments (ATCOG) noted, " In all, the Titus County Summit sparked new energy and momentum to help the group of local leaders assess new strategies and opportunities for moving forward with the region's growing sustainable agriculture movement."

The next NACo County Prosperity Summit will take place in Shasta County, Calif. on Tuesday, May 12. Interested in learning more about County Prosperity Summits and WealthWorks? Plan to attend NACo's Annual Conference this summer in Mecklenburg, N.C., which will feature a County Prosperity Forum on Sunday, July 12th from 9am-12pm EDT. To register for the conference, visit www.naco.org/annual. For more information about the County Prosperity Summits, visit www.naco.org/prosperity or contact Jen Horton at jhorton@naco.org.