Jessica Wirgau, Executive Director of the Community Foundation of the New River Valley and Kevin Byrd, Executive Director of the New River Valley Planning District Commission, celebrate the near completion of a successful three-year federally-funded community planning process.
One of the challenges with implementing USDA Rural Development programs is that many of the communities we serve have not had the opportunity to develop strategic plans to guide federal infrastructure investments effectively. Fortunately, a 2010 grant from HUD’s Office of Sustainable Housing and Communities enabled the New River Valley Planning District Commission to engage the public in the rural Southwest Virginia counties of Pulaski, Montgomery, Giles, and Floyd and all the major towns to develop a blueprint for future economic activity.
Earlier this month I had the opportunity to attend a meeting where over 100 rural citizens in the New River Valley gathered to put some of the finishing touches on the 3-year regional planning process, known locally as their Livability Initiative. I came away inspired by the dialogue that has evolved over the past three years and am looking forward to seeing how the communities in this economically diverse rural region look for ways to implement some of the ideas they have generated to improve their communities and enhance long-term economic opportunities. Read more »
Ajo, Arizona’s Sonoran Desert Retreat Center recently received an ArtPlace grant to promote small town vitality. The town’s annual International Day of Peace parade brings together people from the Tohono O’odahm Nation and Sonoyta, Mexico. Pictured here Eric Alegria (board chair of the Center), Lorraine Marquez Eiler of the Hla C-ed O’odham district on the Tohono O’odham Nation legislative Council, and (behind) Brian Mackenzie, the principal of the Ajo school. Photo courtesy of Tracy Taft.
As rural communities search for new and viable economic approaches, it is becoming clear that one core component of many successful rural communities is the presence of vibrant arts and cultural opportunities. Last month I had the opportunity to speak about rural arts initiatives and how USDA Rural Development is engaged with local communities and private foundations to provide awareness of our infrastructure programs and how they can assist in supporting local cultural strategies.
At the Americans for the Arts annual meeting I had the honor of representing USDA on two panels where our Rural Development programs were part of the mix. The sessions included discussion of ArtPlace, a consortium of national and regional foundations, and their efforts to support rural communities. Projects in Lanesboro, Minnesota and Ajo, Arizona are recent ArtPlace grantees, and we had the opportunity to explore ways in which USDA’s infrastructure programs might be able to leverage this new boost of philanthropic support as these communities work to demonstrate how cultural development is an essential ingredient for rural communities in the next generation. Read more »
Mention to folks that federal agencies work well together and you may receive reactions of disbelief. Sometimes the federal employees, themselves, don’t believe it. But there was a roomful of believers at a recent USDA Rural Roundtable held in Ogden, Iowa.
Iowa USDA Rural Development State Director Bill Menner (center, seated) and other federal officials, hold a roundtable meeting in Ogden, Iowa.
I held more than 40 roundtables across rural Iowa last year, modeled after the roundtables of the White House Business Council and the White House Rural Council. These roundtables provided a great opportunity to talk with rural residents, business owners and leaders about the issues facing their communities – and the opportunities that exist. Read more »
Both of us grew up in small towns, Kathleen in Greenfield, MA and Bob in Ancram, NY. From our own experiences, we understand the challenges and the importance of a strong rural economy.
We recently visited Brevard, a town of about 6,000 people in North Carolina’s Transylvania County. While there we held a White House Rural Council meeting at the Transylvania County Library with leadership from the Land-of-Sky Regional Council, the regional economic development commission AdvantageWest, business leaders from Asheville and Brevard, and several local elected officials. We released a report from the Partnership for Sustainable Communities, Supporting Sustainable Rural Communities, at Brevard College, which focuses on how the federal government can help rural areas to be economically vibrant and environmentally sustainable. Read more »