Reflections on Rural Development Conferences

This blog post is brought to you by Charlie Kelley, Michigan Rural Network’s Program Assistant.  We asked Charlie to reflect on his experiences at two recent conferences here in Michigan.  

This April was conference season for us at the Michigan Rural Network and CEDAM. After being a sponsor and organizer for the Michigan Conference on Affordable Housing (MCOAH) in Lansing, we headed up to Crystal Mountain for the Small Town and Rural Development Conference put on by the Rural Partners of Michigan.

I took a lot away from these first two conferences of my career, both from a professional and personal standpoint.

First of all it was easy to enjoy them. I am fortunate to work in the community development field because it does not feel like work. There are a lot of people doing innovative, effective things to improve communities throughout the state. While the conferences show us different projects that are going on around the industry, they also show us how similar our problems are and the importance of coming together and forming a collective voice for community development in Michigan – especially rural Michigan.

The content of each conference was important and relevant. Both conferences did a very good job of showing the connectivity of problems in communities, not just hanging out in the traditional “silos” of housing or economic development. It was great to see topics brought up at each conference that included food systems, transportation and asset building – all areas the Michigan Rural Network has their hands in.

The MCOAH had many sessions specifically dealing with rural community development. The Michigan Rural Network partnered with Jennie Gies, Chief of Staff for Rep. Jon Switalski, to put on a session on Microenterprise in Rural Michigan. MRN Members Al Hooper (Consumers Energy) and and Bonnie Hildreth (Barry Community Foundation) also paneled a discussion on community owned assets. I also took a lot away from a session on the struggles of getting housing deals done in rural markets, and how to make projects more appealing to Low-income Housing Tax Credit investors.

The Small Town and Rural Development Conference had some great plenary speakers as well. We were happy to see Gov. Rick Snyder address the conference on rural issues. We also heard from Mark Lange from the Edward Lowe Foundation and listened to an entertaining presentation from Maury Forman from the Washington State Department of Commerce. The sessions here focused on Economic Gardening, creating regional identities and alliances, and downtown development in rural areas.

It was exciting for us at the Michigan Rural Network to see these issues brought to the table at both conferences. These are things that are on our radar and important for us to see how they are all connected to affect community life in rural areas. We are working to be a place where all of these issues converge and be a center of action for rural Michigan.