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Conference Explores Capacity Building in Rural Communities

A panel hosted by Richmond Fed senior economist Laura Ullrich discusses issues affecting rural communities

Community development leaders, business leaders and educators gathered in Greensboro, North Carolina, for the Richmond Fed’s recent Investing in Rural America Conference to discuss potential solutions for helping rural communities thrive.

Ann Macheras, the Richmond Fed’s group vice president of Research, opened the conference by reminding both virtual and in-person attendees of the Bank’s mission to strengthen the economy. She also honed in on the Richmond Fed’s growing efforts to support rural communities and small towns.

“Our commitment to small towns and rural areas runs deep within our organization,’’ Macheras said. “We’re proud of that.”

Richmond Fed President Tom Barkin echoed those sentiments as he shared his assessment of where challenges and opportunities lie for rural communities, now that a wealth of federal dollars have been allocated to help these areas become economically sound.

"Billions of dollars are being made available for small towns across the country, but getting access to this funding is hard,” Barkin said. “Communities need help building their capacity and they need it now. What can those of us who want to make a difference do to reduce those barriers?”

Barkin suggested that community development and small business organizations could do their part by offering assistance with grant writing, providing the sometimes-required matching funds, guiding communities on how to effectively distribute the funds they receive and then helping them assess the impact that funding yields.

He also solicited ideas from the audience and took notes as they shared their experiences and weighed in on possible solutions.

Breakout sessions during the daylong event focused on priority issues for small towns and rural places. Through panel discussions around workforce development, early care and education, entrepreneurship and small business development, and workforce housing, experts offered insight into opportunity areas and suggested solutions for rural communities looking to invest in these areas.

Conference-goers also heard from a plenary session panel about Building the Capacity of Rural Development Hubs and Intermediaries, which was moderated by Chris Estes of the Aspen Institute, and from plenary speaker Rebecca Tippett, director of Carolina Demography at the Carolina Population Center at UNC-Chapel Hill, who presented on the topic of The Changing Demographics of Rural America.

Conference panelist Molly Pyle, with the Center on Rural Innovation, said the discussion of economic development in rural America is welcomed, and even critical, at this juncture.

Other panelists reiterated her assessment and noted throughout the day that success in rural areas will require connectors, conveners and facilitators who develop an understanding of the challenges and then work to create viable plans of action.

The Richmond Fed will host the Investing in Rural America Conference each spring. To learn more about the Bank’s research and other engagement in rural areas, visit its Rural Communities webpage.

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