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Charting a road map to rural prosperity

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Rural counties represent a vital piece of our nation’s economy, while providing a vast majority of food, energy, natural resources and environmental benefits for the rest of the country. 

Despite this critical role, rural counties too often do not share in our nation’s economic growth.

Aiming to support rural counties in planning and building more prosperous, vibrant economies, NACo partnered with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development Innovation Center to launch a new initiative, Rural Economic Development Innovation (REDI). 

The REDI initiative seeks to connect local leaders to free economic development expertise in economically challenged rural communities across the country, supporting recommendations identified in USDA’s 2017 “Report to the President from the Interagency Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity.”

Recognizing that economies don’t stop at county lines and the capacity-building expertise that regional development organizations and councils of government can provide, NACo also partnered with the National Association of Regional Councils (NARC) on this initiative to support counties in partnering together in a regional and comprehensive approach to economic development planning. 

In June 2019, USDA announced the selection of 47 communities and regions that will receive two years of technical assistance to build rural capacity and support in creating and implementing long-term economic development plans. 

As partners on the initiative, NACo and NARC launched a two-year peer-learning network to directly support six of the 47 selected communities and regions from across the nation.

This pilot cohort of communities includes: the City of Craig and Moffat County, Colo.; East Central Intergovernmental Association in Iowa; Pend Oreille County, Wash.; Poplar and Fort Peck Tribes, Mont.; Southwest Florida Regional Planning Council and Tioga County, Pa. 

This cohort convened for a kickoff peer exchange in July at NACo’s Annual Conference in Clark County, Nev., where each community formed a team of up to five stakeholders to learn more about each communities’ economic landscape, current community and economic challenges, initial goals for this technical assistance program and key community assets to help solve challenges and accomplish their goals. 

While each community team presented their unique situations and challenges, common themes in initial planning goals were clearly identified, such as increasing affordable and quality housing; building stronger community engagement and buy-in; strengthening workforce development and education partnerships; capitalizing on outdoor and recreation assets and utilizing Opportunity Zones in plans and development.   

Throughout the next nine months, this cohort of community teams will embark on a learning journey of tailored mentoring and interactive virtual learning from fellow cohort peers and other community best practices. 

In June of 2020, this cohort will ultimately reconvene in-person at NARC’s Annual Conference in Detroit to complete and present out on a road map to rural prosperity, consisting of clear community goals and actionable steps to implement back in their communities.

 

To learn more about the REDI initiative and strategies for rural economic development planning, visit https://www.usda.gov/topics/rural/rural-development-innovation-center or contact Jack Morgan, NACo program manager at jmorgan@naco.org.

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