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Past Conference

Investing in Rural america Conference
Wed., Oct. 2, 2019

Investing in Rural America 2019: Moving the Needle

The Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond hosted its inaugural conference focusing on the economic and social aspects of growth in rural areas in October 2019 in Harrisonburg, Va. By convening policymakers, community representatives, businesses, funders and foundations, the conference explored labor market outcomes in rural communities, reviewed examples of success and barriers, highlighted what may be scalable or replicable in other areas, and shined a light on opportunities where investment could make a difference.

What We Learned

Conference Summary




Who Should Attend

Policymakers, community representatives, business executives, nonprofit leaders, investors


  • Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2019
    07:30 am

    Registration and Continental Breakfast

    08:00 am

    Welcome and Opening Remarks
    Tom Barkin, President, Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond

    What will it take to move the needle in rural communities? President Barkin shared an overview of four key themes identified by the Richmond Fed's research: preparing people to enter the workforce, connecting workers to jobs, helping people overcome obstacles to labor force participation, and addressing informational and institutional gaps. While these are challenging problems, they are solvable by good policymaking, markets, local leaders and rural residents themselves.

    Read Speech Text

    08:15 am

    Economic Perspectives and Challenges in Rural Communities
    Kartik Athreya, Director of Research, Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond

    During this session, the Richmond Fed's Research Director provided an overview of some aspects of rural-urban disparities and discussed opportunities for rural communities.

    Athreya Presentation

    09:00 am

    Connecting People to Jobs

    Community colleges and career and technical training play a major role in preparing the rural workforce for local jobs that match the needs of employers. Individuals may be unaware of opportunities in growing occupations and employers are not always well-connected to programs that are available locally. Opportunities exist for closer connections between students, programs, and employers. Panelists shared stories of successful initiatives and the building blocks that made them work, as well as obstacles that were overcome.


    • Melissa Lubin, James Madison University (moderator)
    • Andy Bradley, Duke Energy
    • Clark Casteel, Danville Regional Foundation
    • Glenn Dubois, Virginia Community College System
    • Thad Harrill, Isothermal Community College
    • Duane Yoder, Garrett County Community Action Committee

    10:25 am

    Welcome Remarks from Congressman Ben Cline

    10:30 am

    Broadband: Connecting the Last Mile in Rural America

    Challenges persist in providing broadband to rural areas and at speeds fast enough for businesses, hospitals, and schools. While many small towns have access to internet connectivity in downtown areas and in schools, libraries, and government buildings, many households still lack access to adequate service. Funding is complicated and the "last mile" problem is expensive to solve. This session's experts addressed these challenges and described how funding and public policies could help.


    • Emmett W. Hanger, Jr., Senate of Virginia (moderator)
    • Harold Feld, Public Knowledge
    • Roberto Gallardo, Purdue Center for Regional Development
    • Karen Hanson, National Telecommunications and Information Administration
    • Arthur Scott, National Association of Counties

    Gallardo Presentation
    Hanson Presentation

    12:00 pm

    Luncheon - What it Will Take to Drive Rural Investment?

    This session focused on some of the history and structural challenges that had to be overcome. Speakers discussed ideas that support a different way of thinking about investment and what it will take to drive the level of investment into rural America that is up to the size of the challenges.


    • Katharine Ferguson, Aspen Institute (moderator)
    • Justin Maxson, Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation
    • Lisa Mensah, Opportunity Finance Network
    • Bernett "Bernie" William Mazyck, SC Association for Community Economic Development

    01:30 pm

    Access to Capital and Community Absorption

    This session identified opportunities and barriers that rural communities face in obtaining the capital and investment needed to strengthen and grow. At the same time, it is critical for communities to effectively absorb and deploy capital. Panelists explored the type of infrastructure needed in order to ensure there is sufficient community capacity to absorb the capital and investment once it's obtained.


    • Bette Brand, Rural Business Service, USDA (moderator)
    • Donna Gambrell, Appalachian Community Capital
    • Deb Markley, LOCUS Impact Investing
    • Thomas Watson, Rural Support Partners

    03:00 pm

    Closing and Wrap-up
    Tom Barkin, President, Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond

    03:30 pm


Related Content

Tom Barkin Speaking at Investing in Rural america

Virginia Business highlighted how potential solutions discussed at the conference could impact rural areas of the state.

Kartik Athreya Speaking at Investing in Rural america

Research Director Kartik Athreya talked about how expanding broadband internet service can help economic development.

rural america

Coverage by Axios examined the conference topic in the context of issues receiving new focus from policymakers.

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