By Jessica AcMoody, Policy & Program Specialist
I recently had the opportunity to travel to Wyoming for the Partners for Rural America (PRA) annual summer conference. The conference highlights rural economic development around the country, and gives members of PRA an opportunity to share exciting rural development going on in their state as well as learn what is happening regionally and federally with government programs aimed at rural communities.
Partners for Rural America was formed to support the efforts of State Rural Development Councils (SRDCs) which are positioned to expand economic and social opportunities for America’s rural communities and their residents, promote equal treatment of rural America by government agencies and the private sector, and to provide a collective voice for rural America. (More information on SRDCs can be found here).
Along with members of SRDCs in numerous states, attendees included representatives from HUD, USDA Rural Development, Center for Rural Entrepreneurship, the State of Nevada’s Governor’s Office, Clemson University, Southern Utah University, chambers of commerce and extension offices. Sessions included a presentation on the Sustainable Communities Initiative, the Regional Center Area Sector Analysis & Process, and a panel on funding of SRDCs. One of the most interesting sessions was on rural philanthropy and the transfer of rural wealth (featuring stories from our two communities in our state – the Barry Community Foundation and the Fremont Area Community Foundation). This session highlighted the issues that the Michigan Rural Council’s Rural Philanthropy workgroup focused on and talked about ways community groups and foundations in rural areas could tap into wealth in the community. I was also able to give a brief presentation highlighting rural placemaking in Michigan, and the activities going on throughout Michigan surrounding MIplace and the placemaking initiative.
The second day of the conference was a tour entitled “Economic Drivers of Wyoming: Energy, Tourism and Agriculture”. The tour highlighted the various ways rural development is advancing the economy of Wyoming. It included a visit to a coal mine where surface mining takes place, a visit to a Wyoming Main Street program participant, a stop at a cattle ranch that included four generations of ranchers, a drive through a wind turbine field and a visit to Ft. Bridger State Park which first served as an emigrant stop along the Oregon Trail, then as an important stop on the Mormon trail in the 1850s, and finally as a military outpost in 1858.
It was inspiring to see the innovative ways that rural areas across the nation are finding to drive economies, increase wealth of rural areas and improve the lives of rural residents. I hope to lead the Michigan Rural Council in building on the ideas and innovations that I brought back to Michigan from the conference to help revitalize and enhance our rural communities.