A new vision of rural economic development that drives more equitable outcomes

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By Alejandra Y. Castillo, US Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development and Nathan Ohle, CEO, RCAP

On December 1, 2021, the Rural Community Assistance Partnership (RCAP) brought together more than 30 of the nation’s foremost leaders on rural economic development for a conversation on building a new vision of rural economic development. Along with USDA Under Secretary of Rural Development Xochitl Torres Small, we participated in a virtual convening where they listened to presentations and discussed the evolving nature of rural economic development to best position our organizations to help drive more equitable economic outcomes in rural and tribal communities across the country.

The COVID-19 pandemic has further exacerbated the growing economic divide between large and small communities, leading to vastly different outcomes for individuals and families, in part based on where they live. Out of a crisis, however, comes opportunity – an opportunity to think about the future of rural economic development differently.

Today, a new approach focused on driving efforts around local assets that embed wealth locally and regionally is emerging.

The conversation centered around five key themes:

  1. The importance of trained rural leadership teams in community economic development;
  2. Holistic development strategies that move beyond traditional economic development to drive equitable economic growth;
  3. Rebuilding rural economies via entrepreneurship;
  4. Building the right combination of capacity building and capital to accelerate opportunity; and
  5. Metrics that are better aligned to represent impact in rural regions.

It was noted that the Biden administration has made a public commitment to ‘rebuild rural’ and is delivering through ambitious provisions included in the American Rescue Plan, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Good Jobs Act, and executive orders focused on racial equity and a just transition to a greener, more circular economy. We are committed to continuing to work together to explore new ways to support rural communities and her great appreciation for the innovative ideas being developed and wide collaboration already underway to strengthen rural America.

The U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA) has a strong commitment to rural communities and has throughout its history.

Today, EDA is moving $3 billion in American Rescue Plan funding into communities through six innovative programs and a $300 million Coal Communities Commitment. This critical funding will result in transformative investments for rural America.

Importantly, EDA is committed to equitably distributing its American Rescue Plan and other funding. In fact, today, EDA’s top investment priority is ‘Equity’. Working with those that have been denied a full opportunity to participate in aspects of economic prosperity in the past will strengthen not only rural America, but uplift our entire nation’s economy, assistant secretary Castillo concluded.

The conversation hosted by RCAP is just the first of many between these rural and tribal leaders and EDA and USDA, which will help to launch new strategies and opportunities that will lead to more equitable economic outcomes in some of the country’s most distressed communities.

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