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Speaking of the Economy
Speaking of the Economy - Andrew Dumont and Daniel Davis
Speaking of the Economy

Nov. 10, 2021

A Framework for Rural Economic Development

Topic: Rural Communities
Audiences: Community Advocates, Community Investors, Policymakers, General Public
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Andrew Dumont and Daniel Paul Davis discuss an approach to economic development in rural communities that is detailed in a book they have edited, "Investing in Rural Prosperity." Dumont is a senior community development analyst at the Federal Reserve Board of Governors. Davis is vice president and community affairs officer at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.

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Erika Bell: I'm Erika Bell, community development regional manager at the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond. Thank you for listening to "Speaking of the Economy." You can find past episodes on the Richmond Fed's website at richmondfed.org/speakingoftheeconomy. You can also subscribe on Apple Podcasts.

Today we have Daniel Paul Davis, vice president and community affairs officer at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, and Andrew Dumont, senior community development analyst at the Federal Reserve Board. They co-edited a book, "Investing in Rural Prosperity," which will be available on the St. Louis Fed's website at stlouisfed.org beginning November the 16th.

Welcome.

Daniel Davis: Thanks, Erica. It's great to be with you.

Andrew Dumont: Thanks for having us.

Bell: You two recently published a chapter from your forthcoming book in which you propose a framework for how rural communities can foster shared economic prosperity. Can you tell our audience more about that framework?

Davis: Well, we call our approach the "TRIC to shared rural prosperity" and, Erica, TRIC is spelled differently than how your listeners may hear it. It's T-R-I-C. TRIC is an acronym that stands for tailored, resilient, inclusive and collaborative. This is a framework that builds on the work of many of the authors featured in the "Investing in Rural Prosperity" book and on the work of other rural thought leaders to show how rural communities can convert the presence of assets in their communities into economic prosperity that's felt by the whole community.

The TRIC framework for how to approach rural development is intentionally not sector or policy area specific. While we focus specifically on rural communities, we believe it's an approach that has applicability in urban or suburban contexts, too.

When you think about the TRIC framework, and you think about that first letter "T," that stands for tailoring. We know that tailoring economic development strategies is important because attempts to support shared economic prosperity and rural places [are] going to be most effective when they are crafted for the specific community in which they're being carried out. This means that the strategy is fashioned around the goals of the community and the assets that are present in the community at the time it's being developed.

When we think about community assets, these could be anything that range from the local workforce skills that are present in the community, or maybe the local historical sites, perhaps its proximity to a community college or really any number of things. But Erica it always, always includes the people inhabiting the community itself.

Because of this, it's important to identify who and what is already present in the community and to understand that you have to incorporate them in the overall work that's taking place. Any blueprint for development must build on the value of the community's assets and on its capacity.

This may seem obvious. Many communities don't necessarily take an approach of tailoring their rural development work, nor do many of our government agencies or foundations or other resource providers who want to support them. Well-meaning leaders may pursue opportunities that sound good, but they have little likelihood of success because community members may lack skills or abilities necessary to participate or they're not sufficiently supported to develop them. Similarly, well-intentioned resource providers may have clearly defined boxes they want grantees to fit in that don't necessarily match the realities of the communities they want to help. Communities have to be met where they are.

The second letter in the TRIC framework is "R," which stands for resilient. It's necessary for rural development efforts to be structured in a way that is resilient to both the sudden shocks and the gradual changes that will undoubtedly occur over time if the community wants their development efforts to have long-lasting positive effects. This means not being overly reliant on one community asset or one organization or even one industry. And it also means being future oriented.

This involves looking at forward-looking trends and understanding the economy and demography and thinking about how to best position the community to benefit from what is on the horizon locally, the horizon nationally and also on the global horizon, and then mobilizing the community to seize that opportunity.

That's what resilience is all about. Andrew, maybe I'll turn it over to you to talk about the other two principles in the framework.

Dumont: Thanks, Daniel.

The other two principles in the TRIC framework are inclusive and collaborative. I'll start by outlining what we mean by taking an inclusive approach and why it matters.

We believe that to truly advance shared economic prosperity in a rural place, development activities must be intentionally inclusive of the full range of people living in the community. Those sitting on the sidelines of a community's economy are often doing so because obstacles exist that limit their participation. Therefore, intentionality is required to address the barriers they face and open the door for new opportunities.

Unfortunately, the classic phrase "A rising tide lifts all boats" just doesn't ring true in all cases, in all places, or for all people. To stretch the metaphor here, some boats have holes in them that keep them from rising as high with the tide as other boats do. To best understand those barriers, those challenges that individuals are experiencing which are keeping them from fully participating in the economy, as well as potential solutions, we need to ask community members most impacted for their input, place value on their ideas, and incorporate their feedback into our plans.

Inclusivity is, we feel, particularly critical at this moment in time for many reasons, not least because racially and ethnically diverse populations — including immigrants — represent the largest source of population growth for many rural communities across the country. These, unfortunately, are also groups that have faced the greatest barriers to full participation in the economy throughout our country's history.

So if we want rural places to thrive over the long term, they'll benefit from, we believe, welcoming and embracing people from diverse backgrounds and experiences, and focusing on how to dismantle any barriers that may prevent them from reaching their full potential. Otherwise, communities at large will struggle to reach their full potential.

The final principle in the framework is collaborative. We included this principle in the framework because we believe that communities are more equipped to advance shared prosperity when people throughout the community and the broader region collaborate to formulate and implement their development strategies.

Communities and their economies are incredibly complex systems, even small rural ones. Therefore, in most instances, it is not possible or really desirable for any one individual or organization to wield enough capacity and influence to shoulder long-term development responsibilities by themselves. Communities that achieve success over time pursue cross-sector approaches, bringing leaders from the nonprofit, for-profit, financial, government and philanthropic sectors – really from all walks of life across the community – together to figure out where to go, how to get there, and who's going to play what role.

The most successful efforts also tend to include an element of regional collaboration, identifying what everyone brings to the table, agreeing on common goals, and pursuing a common vision will all go a long way toward making collaboration a reality for rural communities. Even if a community itself is doing really well at coming together across different walks of life, the reality is they might still just not have everything they need to take advantage of the opportunities that are in front of them. But working with their neighboring communities, they may be able to access all the resources and expertise that they need to capitalize on that opportunity. So, working at a regional scale helps to increase the likelihood of success. We know from research that communities that do that are more likely to be successful and have solid development over time.

Bell: Thank you for exploring that with us.

Let's talk a little more about the principles in your framework. Some of our listeners may feel like those are just abstract ideas, so what do they really mean? What do they look like in practice?

Let's start with "tailored." Daniel, I'll turn it over to you first.

Davis: What might be best to bring those ideas home for folks [is] by walking through a few illustrations of how communities are tailoring their work to have tremendous impact.

The first example, in fact, is tailored so well that it might be difficult to replicate in other places. This one comes from eastern West Virginia. Their several partners have come together to form the Ag Action Council, which identified significant potential for the region to grow and expand an industry that's called biochar. Biochar leverages a product made from chicken waste. Since the region has a high concentration of chicken farms, this asset-based approach has helped the community reimagine chicken waste products as a value-added business opportunity.

While this might be a great idea for this region of eastern West Virginia, it would be a terrible idea for a region that didn't have that underlying asset. That's what tailoring is all about. You don't just do something that someone else is doing, but you build your strategy on the specific assets that you have locally.

Bell: Thank you for giving us an example of tailoring in communities.

Up next, Andrew, can you give us some examples of what resilience looks like in practice?

Dumont: Absolutely.

Resilience can look like many different things in practice. For example, you can focus on resilience at the level of the individual household or business. You can also focus on it at the community or regional level. Ideally, a community's resilience strategy would take all of these into consideration, but perhaps each piece of that is advanced by a different organization or set of partners. I'll give you an example of resilience at the individual household level and then at the organizational level.

At the individual household level, resilience can mean investing in the ability of individuals and families to withstand shocks. A great example of this from the book comes from eastern Kentucky where Frontier Housing, Clayton Homes and the Ford Foundation came together in 2010 to showcase the wealth-building potential of quality manufactured homes. This partnership led to a new subdivision, the community of Edgewood, which features a collection of ENERGY STAR-rated manufactured homes. These energy-efficient features lower monthly payments for homeowners, which helps them to manage their budgets and save for critical needs like an emergency, maybe a natural disaster, maybe a pandemic. We know that having savings is important to weather shocks by reducing monthly payments for homeowners. Thus, helping them manage their budgets and increase their savings increases the resilience of those households to unexpected shocks.

At the organizational and community levels, resilience can mean ensuring the continuity of the work of your organization and your community by investing in the next generation. One example of this from the book is the case of Wallowa Resources in Oregon, and I hope I pronounced that correctly. I apologize if I didn't. Wallowa is investing in the next generation of rural leaders and land stewards, including through a program that engages young people from third grade all the way through graduate school and helps them learn about the challenges facing rural places and the potential for community renewal through collaboration and land stewardship. They're really investing in the next leaders of both their organization and their communities.

Bell: Thank you.

Now we'll turn back to Daniel. Can you give us an example of what being inclusive looks like in practice?

Davis: Oh, sure.

There's this great example also in the book of an organization called Higher Purpose Co. Higher Purpose Co. is based in the rural Mississippi Delta … serving a set of rural counties with the majority African American population. Andrew had mentioned earlier that central to being inclusive is ensuring that the full range of people living in the community — especially those who may traditionally be underserved or on the sidelines — are benefiting from community and economic development efforts.

What Higher Purpose Co. is up to is recognizing that there was no real network to get capital to black entrepreneurs in the communities that they're seeking to serve. Their aim is to produce a community of black entrepreneurs, artists and farmers who collectively support one another. They saw a population that was underserved by the traditional market and mobilized to ensure that inclusion became a reality. They created a funding network to coordinate with potential borrowers and financial institutions, essentially making it easier for individual seekers of business funding to explore and effectively compare multiple options at once.

They [also] work to assist entrepreneurs with application packaging, which includes organizing and reviewing all documents related to funding requests to ensure that they are properly prepared. And they work with multiple financial institutions to create an integrated suite of capital assistance products — including grants, low interest loans, loan guarantees and investment dollars – that are targeted to meet the needs of the population they're serving.

Tailoring their work has been extremely effective. It has helped them to deploy over $800,000 to hundreds of black entrepreneurs, artists and farmers working across the Mississippi Delta region.

Bell: Thank you for sharing with us the work of Higher Purpose.

We turn last to "collaborative." Tell us where you have seen successful collaboration in rural communities. Andrew?

Dumont: The first example comes from Sacramento, where economic development leaders, industry and university partners, and policy officials are working together to create a cohesive regional ecosystem to support the life sciences and agricultural biotechnology industry clusters. Two research parks — one in urban Sacramento and one in the city of Woodland, a small town in the broader Sacramento region — will act as hubs for new and existing businesses to work with researchers to develop and commercialize new life sciences and ag biotechnologies and innovation. It's really a broad cross-section of folks coming from different walks of life to move this forward and allow this vision to become reality.

A second example comes to us from the New River Valley region of southwest Virginia, where numerous partners come together regularly as part of a monthly livability leadership meeting to collaborate deeply on issues that are challenging the region. In addition to this day-to-day coordination, the group also organizes a popular annual livability summit to elevate awareness of the good work taking place across the region and to help foster connections among organizations and communities across the region.

The longstanding work of this group, which has spanned many years now, has led to numerous tangible outcomes. I'll just touch on one of them, which is the redevelopment of a decommissioned elementary school which is being converted into affordable and senior living apartments as well as a commercial kitchen, a microbrewery and a restaurant. That really came about because of the great coordination and collaborative work of this livability leadership group. In the region, they know what the plan is, they know how they fit into that, and they know who to connect with in terms of understanding about potentially underutilized assets, like this elementary school, and how that can connect to the broader strategy for the region.

Bell: You have featured examples from right here in the Federal Reserve Fifth District and beyond. It is helpful to see what the principles of the framework look like in action, so thank you both for explaining that.

For our listeners out there who may have different roles when it comes to rural development and who may want to apply these ideas in their day-to-day lives, what should they be asking themselves about their work and whether it incorporates these principles?

Davis: Everyone has a role in advancing shared economic prosperity, from community members who want to see something better for their community to the county administrator and a range of individuals in between and also beyond.

Sometimes we like to think about the engaged community members who are active in the community and the questions that they could be asking themselves. What assets does my community possess? What are we doing as a community to leverage those assets to create economic opportunities? How does our community invest in our own people as assets? This is important if we're going to get to recognizing that the most important assets that are available in any given community are the people themselves.

Also, looking around that community … who's missing from the decision-making table? When people do show up at the decision-making table, asking questions like "Does everyone have an equal voice?" is going to help ensure that the economic prosperity that's experienced by the community truly represents and also benefits everybody in the community.

Dumont: Another relevant group we consider is policymakers, who we know play a critical role in supporting this kind of approach to rural development that's consistent with the TRIC framework. Policymakers can consider questions like "Do my policies depend on the existence of specific institutions within target communities? If so, does the existence of those institutions differ across areas in a way that could create barriers to advancing shared economic prosperity?"

If you require that there be only applicants who are formally organized 501(c)(3)s are the only eligible entities for a certain type of grant [or] certain kind of policy, then that may limit uptake in certain communities where, say, the work is coordinated and carried out through informal networks of engaged citizens. [They] may be doing exactly the same thing but haven't gone through the process or don't have the resources or expertise or comfort level with going and filing the paperwork necessary to become a formally organized 501(c)(3).

Bell: Thank you for outlining the principles that we could consider, particularly for those engaged community members, funders, policymakers and others in rural communities. Daniel and Andrew, thank you for taking the time to share your work.

Davis: Thanks for the invitation. Erica.

Dumont: Thanks very much for having us.

Bell: Thank you. And for our audience, today we have been discussing the TRIC framework as outlined in the forthcoming book "Investing in Rural Prosperity." As mentioned at the top of the podcast, the book will be available on November the 16th on the St. Louis Fed's website, stlouisfed.org.

Thank you for joining us.

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