By Jessica AcMoody, Senior Policy Specialist
I recently had the opportunity to travel to the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia for the Partners for Rural America (PRA) annual conference and meeting. 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.
Along with members of SRDCs in numerous states, attendees included representatives from USDA Rural Development (including the Deputy Under Secretary for Policy, Rural Development), and elected officials and department heads from the state of Virginia. Sessions included a presentation on community assessments, rural policy coordination, national trends and research initiatives and council collaborations and future development. I was able to present on the community assessment process in Michigan, and bring back ideas on improving our assessments. The second day of the conference was a tour of economic drivers of the Shenandoah Valley.
The tour highlighted the various ways rural development is advancing the economy of Virginia. The tour included stops at small businesses, agro-tourism businesses such as the White Oak Lavender Farm, the Blue Ridge Community College’s Advanced Technology Center, and the American Shakespeare Center Blackfriars Playhouse. While on the tour we were able to speak with the business owners and managers and learn about the unique challenges and opportunities of operating rural businesses and training centers. We also learned how the community college was working in partnership with local manufacturers to create special training courses for their rural residents.
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.