[Watch] Investing in Rural Prosperity: Framework for Advancing Economic Prosperity


Fed Communities Staff

Across the country, many vulnerable rural communities were still striving to fully recover from the Great Recession when the COVID-19 pandemic struck. The pandemic– and the steep economic downturn caused by the measures implemented to limit its spread– hit many vulnerable rural communities particularly hard: from low-wage meatpacking workers in the Midwest to Native communities in the Southwest, and from Black Americans in the Southeast to immigrant farmworkers in the West.

Recognizing the precarious situation many of these communities faced before the pandemic, and the tough work they have ahead of them in recovery, the Federal Reserve Board of Governors and the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis are jointly publishing Investing in Rural Prosperity, which details a framework for advancing shared economic prosperity in rural communities across the United States.

The session celebrates the unique assets in rural communities, while making the case for continued investment—specifically in low-income or otherwise under-resourced rural communities. In making this case, speakers will reveal a new “TRIC” framework from the book. The “TRIC” framework proposes the most successful rural development efforts are tailored to the specific goals, assets, and organizational infrastructure of the community; designed to be resilient to changing circumstances; intentionally inclusive about who is at the decision-making table and who benefits from local development; and are created and carried out through a collaborative process.

As rural communities seek to recover from the pandemic, this approach will help economic development practitioners, policymakers, funders and researchers in providing inclusive, sustainable access to economic opportunity.


Connecting Communities Investing in Rural Prosperity: Framework for Advancing Economic Prosperity (video, 1:03:16).
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Daniel Paul Davis

Good afternoon and welcome to Connecting Communities. Today’s webinar is Investing in Rural Prosperity: A Framework for Advancing Shared Economic Prosperity in Rural Communities Across the United States. I’m Daniel Paul Davis from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, and I’ll serve as your host for today’s session.

On slide two, I’d like to take a moment just to introduce you to our fantastic lineup of speakers, and I promise you this is already a dream team. Joining me today are Andrew Dumont from the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, Donna Gambrell from Appalachian Community Capital, Justin Maxson from the US Department of Agriculture, Lisa Mensah from the Opportunity Finance Network, and Marietta Rodriguez from NeighborWorks America. Andrew, Donna, Justin, Lisa, and Marietta, thank you so much for joining us today.

Let’s take a look at our agenda for this session, and you’ll see this right here at the bottom of the slide you’ll receive an overview of the Federal Review of the Federal Reserve’s Investing in Rural Prosperity book, which officially launched today, and you’ll learn about a framework for fostering shared economic prosperity that is included in the book that we call the TRIC Framework. There’s going to be a robust conversation about today’s topic, and of course, we’ll save a few minutes at the end for your questions for today’s presenters and panelists.

Let’s move on to slide three. Just a couple of housekeeping items quickly. For the best webinar experience, we recommend that you use the web stream to consume this live video event through your computer speakers. If you do have technical issues at all, you’re absolutely welcome to dial into the phone number posted on the player page, but the video will not sync perfectly with the phone audio. A note that this session will be recorded and the presentation is going to be available on our Connecting Communities website. Also in connection with this session, you can find a variety of additional resources available at www.fedcommunities.org. And last, we will be taking audience questions during the event. And we’d love to hear from you so you can email us at communities@stls.frb.org or type your question into the webinar’s chat box.

Now, as we move on to slide four, I need to note that before we proceed much further, it’s important for us to review our legal notice and disclaimer since this is a Federal Reserve webinar. And I just have to read this. It says, “The information, analyses, and conclusions set forth are those of the presenters and do not necessarily indicate concurrence by the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, the Federal Reserve Banks, or the members of their staffs.”

Finally, on slide five, you’ll see a map of the Federal Reserve districts around the country. We encourage you to pinpoint your location and to get to know the Federal Reserve Bank doing work in your backyard. I’ll note that the mission of the Federal Reserve’s community development function is to promote economic growth and financial stability for low to moderate income and underserved individuals and communities.

Now, let’s go on to slide six, and I’d love to bring in Andrew Dumont from the Federal Reserve Board of Governors. Andrew, it’s a big day around here with a new book on rural development and we have an engaged audience excited to hear about this body of work so I’ll hand the baton over to you.

Andrew Dumont

Thank you, Daniel. So as Daniel just mentioned, on the next slid, I’ll start with a brief overview of our recently released book, Investing in Rural Prosperity. So let’s head to that slide now.

Investing in Rural Prosperity is a book that was co-edited and published by the Federal Reserve Board and the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. We published this book to help inform rural development stakeholders working at the local, state and national levels on how policies, practices, and funding streams can support the achievement of shared economic prosperity in rural communities across country.

The book is broken down into four sections. Section one chapters focus on setting the stage by providing important context for where rural communities are today, how they got there, and what economic and demographic forces are shaping their potential future. Section two chapters outline a framework for fostering shared economic prosperity, which we will unpack during the latter part of this presentation and our discussion with our panelists. Section three chapters highlight places around the country that are making strides by applying the ideas and principles contained in the framework to different needs in their community be it housing, small business support or digital inclusion. Lastly, excuse me, section four chapters propose next steps that rural development stakeholders or allies can take to allow for more widespread adoption of best practices across rural America going forward.

Now turning to the next slide, how did we decide what to include in this book? Well, we were advised by rural development leaders coming from a variety of different roles and regions of the country, along with many of our reserve bank colleagues who are also located all around the country and work on different topics related to rural development. The chapters of the book were authored by nearly 80 individuals coming from all over the country, and again, from a wide variety of different roles, they touch on issues ranging from small business support to workforce development and from affordable housing to leadership development.

We truly believe that no matter what your role in supporting the development of thriving rural communities, there is some nugget of wisdom in this resource for you. Now, inevitably in an undertaking like this though, many great stories are left out. The book is nearly 600 pages as it is, and it easily could have been 6,000 pages with all the great work and worthwhile ideas and activities out there. The stories and insights in this resource are just a great taste of the work going on out there across rural America and not meant to indicate that anything not included here is any lesser than what was included or the case studies in here are necessarily vastly better than other work going on. Just again, a taste of the great work going on out there.

Now on the next slide, slide nine, we will transition to discussing the framework that Daniel and I propose in our chapter of the book. We believe the framework we propose can help folks think about carrying out economic development activities in a way that can contribute to shared rural prosperity across the country. So let’s turn to the next slide, slide 10, and start laying it out there.

As you can see on this slide, we call our approach the TRIC, or T-R-I-C, to shared rural prosperity. We felt it was important to introduce this framework because while we firmly believe that every community has assets build on, we’re aware that simply having assets is not a sufficient condition for shared economic prosperity. Building on the work of many of the book authors and other rural thought leaders, we crafted a framework for how rural communities can convert the presence of assets into economic prosperity that is felt by the whole community. And to do so, rural development must be carried out in a way that is tailored, resilient, inclusive, and collaborative, the T-R-I-C of the framework.

Now, over the next few slides, Daniel will walk through what each of those principles mean in detail, so I will just touch on them at a high level right now. Tailored rural development involves meeting a community where it is by building on the assets that are already there. Resilient rural development means acknowledging and planning around the fact that change is inevitable, and so flexibility and adaptability are critical. Inclusive rural development requires being intentional about ensuring everyone in the community has a voice and power at the decision making table, especially those historically on the economic margins. And finally, collaborative rural development means working with stakeholders from across the community and the broader region.

It’s important that the TRIC framework for how to approach rural development is intentionally not sector or policy area specific. And while we focus specifically on rural communities, we believe that this approach has applicability in urban and suburban context too.

Now moving on to slide 11, I want to acknowledge that the four principles of the TRIC framework overlap are interrelated and are mutually reinforcing. We describe the relationships between these four principles in more detail in our chapter of the book, so I encourage you to read it to explore those ideas more. In the meantime, I’ll just say that the full potential of this framework can only be realized when all four principles are implemented together. And now I’ll pass it over to Daniel to walk through each of the four principles in more detail.

Daniel Paul Davis

Well, thanks Andrew for that great overview of the book. And I would love to walk through just the four principles briefly, and we’ll start here on slide 12 with tailored, which of course is the T of the TRIC framework.

So attempts we know to support shared economic prosperity in rural places are always going to be most effective when they’re crafted for a specific community in which they’re meant to be carried out. Now this means that the strategy is fashioned around the goals of the community and assets that are present in the community at the time it’s being developed. And when you think about community assets, these could include everything from skills that are present in the local workforce to local or historical or cultural sites, maybe proximity to a community college or really any number of things. But certainly I think it’s important to note that it always includes the people inhabiting the community. And because of this, it’s important to identify who and what is already present in the community. And this also includes the organizational capacity of the community, organizational capacity of organizations, the leaders, the educational institutions, the nonprofit community. Also organizational capacity of funders. Think about your financial institutions, your community banks, your government service providers.

While the centrality of tailoring your rural development strategy may sound obvious, many communities don’t currently take this approach and nor do many of the government agencies, foundations, or other well-intentioned resource providers that want to support them. Sometimes we try to put rural communities in the clearly defined boxes that may not necessarily match the realities of the communities themselves. It’s important to note that rural America is not a monolith and overall communities need to be met exactly where they are.

On slide 13, we’ve listed some examples of how communities are tailoring economic development strategies all around the nation. These are all examples highlighted in the book, and you’ll have access to these slides after the presentation, but I’ll call out just one example that is highly tailored and it’s tailored so well that it might be honestly mighty difficult to replicate. And this one comes from Eastern West Virginia. There are several partners that came together to form the Ag Action Council, which identified significant potential for the region to grow and expand an industry called biochar, which 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 waste products as value added business opportunities. And while this is perhaps a great idea for this region, it would be a terrible idea for a region that didn’t have that underlying asset. And that’s what tailoring is all about. You don’t just do what someone else is doing, but you build your strategy on the specific assets you have locally locally.

Okay, let’s move on to slide 14 and we’ll talk about resilient, which is the R in the TRIC framework. Of course, in order to have long lasting positive effects on the community, rural development efforts have to be structured in a way that is resilient to both the sudden shocks and the gradual changes that will undoubtedly occur over time. When a community encounters changing dynamics, it has to be able to respond and adapt throughout these shifts. So this means not being overly reliant on one community member or one organization or even one industry. It also means that rural development strategies need to be future-oriented. Among other things, this involves performing a forward looking assessment of trends in the economy and demography and thinking about how to best position the community to benefit from what is on the horizon locally, nationally, and globally, and then mobilizing the community to seize that opportunity. Importantly, it also requires ongoing evaluation. It’s incredibly difficult for a community to determine how to prepare for the future if they don’t know what they’re doing that’s working and what they’re doing that’s not.

On slide 15, you’ll see three examples of putting resilient into practice. And again, these all come from the book, highlighting how communities are really digging into resilience. From Oregon, where Wallowa Resources is taking intentional steps to invest in the next generation of rural leaders to rural Kentucky, where Frontier Housing has worked with the Ford Foundation and Clayton Homes to develop energy star rated manufactured housing to help with environmental sustainability efforts while promoting wealth building opportunities for the local population.

So let’s go on to slide 16 and we’ll look at the I in the TRIC framework, which stands for inclusive. Development Activities have to be inclusive of the full range of people living in a community, especially those who may traditionally be on the sidelines. Those sitting on the sidelines of a community are often doing so because obstacles exist that limit their participation. So intentionality is required to address the barriers they face and open the door for new opportunities. In order to best understand the challenges individuals are experiencing as well as the potential solution to those challenges, we have to view the community members most impacted by the challenges as experts of their own circumstances. We must ask for their input, place value on their ideas, and incorporate their feedback.

I think it’s important to note that rural America, as I mentioned earlier, is not a monolith. And that racially and ethnically diverse populations, including immigrants, represent the largest source of population growth for many of our rural communities across the United States. Therefore, if rural communities want to thrive over the long term, they’re going to benefit from welcoming and embracing people from diverse backgrounds and experiences.

So on slide 17, there are a few examples of how communities are putting this principle into place. And here I’d like to call out one from rural Mississippi. Higher Purpose Co is based in the rural Mississippi Delta, and they serve a set of largely rural counties with majority African American populations. They aim to build more inclusive wealth building practices by focusing on advancing Black entrepreneurship and access to capital. They saw a population that was underserved by the traditional market and they mobilized to ensure 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.

Okay, let’s go on at slide 18 for the final principle in the framework. And this one, as you know by now, is collaborative. Communities are more equipped to advance shared prosperity when people throughout the community and across multiple communities collaborate to formulate and implement development strategies. Communities and their economies are incredibly complex systems, even the small rural ones. In most instances, it’s largely infeasible 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, however, pursue cross sector approaches, bringing leaders from the non-profit, the for-profit, financial, government, and philanthropic sectors together to advance their strategies. And they tend to pursue regional collaboration as well. Identifying what everyone brings to the collective table, agreeing on common goals and pursuing a common vision will go a long way toward making collaboration a reality for rural communities.

On slide 19, you’ll see a trio of examples from the book, and I want to briefly call out the first example. It’s a great example because it involves collaboration between rural and urban communities, and it takes place in Sacramento, California. It features a regional collaboration among economic development leaders, industry and university partners and policy officials in the Sacramento region to support the life sciences and agricultural biotech industries in rural and urban areas of greater Sacramento. It’s a collaborative win-win for both rural and urban communities. I think that’s a good lesson for us to learn, that investing in rural is not a zero sum game for urban communities.

So there you have it, what we call the TRIC framework to shared economic prosperity in rural communities, which to sum it up as you’ve heard Andrew say, involves pursuing development strategies that are tailored, resilient, inclusive, and collaborative.

Now, we’ve saved a majority of our time today for a great panel discussion, so I’d like to bring Andrew back in and also invite our panel to turn on their cameras for a conversation about the framework and its implications, and moreover, so that we can hear their views on how they’re encouraging shared economic prosperity across rural communities.

So before we dive into the specifics of the framework, I do want to pull back for just a minute and ask each of you panelists to help us set the context for this conversation. My question is, why does it matter that we’re having this conversation right now? The fact of the matter is that most people in this country and most countries around the world live in urban or suburban communities, and I suspect that many of those tuning in today also live there. So why should they care about what is happening in rural America and why should folks in rural America care about whether economic prosperity is accessible to everyone in their community? So Lisa, perhaps I can start with you and then go to Justin, Donna, and then Marietta. So Lisa, I’d love to get your thoughts.

Lisa Mensah

Thanks so much. Big opportunity to be here on the day of the book launch. And I love the question. I had a prior life inside of the Department of Agriculture, and my first teacher was somebody said, “America does like to eat and wear clothes, and so does much of the rural.” So rural does matter, 80% of our land mass as a country is rural. But I think you’re pushing deeper, you are saying, “Why does shared prosperity matter? Why are we having this conversation now?” And I think the timing of this book is so perfectly timed after this pandemic because there’s nothing like a global pandemic to make us realize we are, in fact, all together in this. We could either spread prosperity or disease, and I would rather spread prosperity.

But to be quite clear, we have left behind parts of this country for too long. And I think the festering of people not growing in opportunity really, really peels away a democracy. And I think why we need to speak to rural areas now and make sure that we do grow together, and not just the successful parts of rural America, but the parts that have been behind is now we see it revealed. We see who has broadband and who doesn’t. And yet we’ve never been more ready with strong solutions. So my quick answer, we got to do it. This is part of our economy. And to do it in an inclusive way both builds a democracy and allows us to use solutions that are right in front of us. So that’s how I would answer a thought provoking opening question.

Daniel Paul Davis

Thanks Lisa. Justin, we’ll go to you. And Donna, you’re on deck.

Justin Maxson

Hey Daniel, it’s great to be here. It is an exciting conversation and a great resource in the book. I will say I totally agree with Lisa. The country deserves and requires a democracy that works for everybody. And there are too many parts of the country that feel left out of and shut out of an economic future that they see themselves in. And if we don’t lean into those communities, it is at our peril. So yes, Lisa.

The other is, I would say I think rural America has a significant contribution to make toward our climate future. And that can be done in a way that creates economic opportunities, but also supports ag practices that are climate-smart and forestry practices that are climate-smart and renewable energy production at scale, both in, I think, distributed ways and through utilities. So I think this country needs to think about it’s climate future where rural communities are central to that future and it needs to be done in a way that creates economic opportunities near term and long term for those same communities. Thanks.

Daniel Paul Davis

Thanks Justin. Donna,

Donna Gambrell

Thank you, Daniel. It’s so great to be on a panel with so many friends and colleagues. I love the title of the book by the way, Investing in Rural Prosperity. Too oftentimes I think we focus on rural poverty without recognizing that within these communities there is the ability, the interest, and certainly the drive to be a prosperous part of the US economy. And so again, just thrilled to be here.

Thank you for your question. One of the things that I always say about this moment in time, if not now, when? And if rural communities are not part of this equation as we look at rebuilding the economy, revitalizing community and economic development and too many underserved communities throughout the nation, then what role should they play? I mean, it has become a critical part of community and economic development growth and transformation, frankly.

I mean, when you look at the power within the communities that are rural, Lisa has already underscored the critical role that rural communities play in powering, feeding America. And certainly it has played that role for decades. And so one-fifth of the population in this country is rural. 21% is comprised of people of color. 90% of the rural businesses are small businesses, these are job creators, generators of wealth, generational wealth as well. So I think that this is timely, that we need to grab the moment. We need to take advantage of the moment now as we look at revitalizing not only our economy, but diversifying the economy, continuing to build this country and looking at ways in which we can all be inclusive, be an inclusive part of that building.

Daniel Paul Davis

Thanks, Donna. Marietta, onto you.

Marietta Rodriguez

Yeah, I agree with so much of what Donna, Lisa, and Justin have indicated. I think we are at an opportunity to meet the moment, and I think the moment is two issues converging that are interrelated. Obviously, the COVID-19 pandemic has really illustrated how interconnected sectors are. And as it stated, rural America feeds us and cloths us. So regardless of where you live, you should care and be invested in creating and maintaining investment in rural America and making sure that they’re vibrant and healthy.

97% of the United States land is considered rural. It touches all of us, whether we’re in the middle of DC or urban Manhattan or not. And I think we are at a point of reckoning in our country. For decades, rural and remote communities have been left behind in the race of investment and it’s resulted in some gaps that we can no longer ignore. So I think meeting the moment is really, really important because healthy, vibrant, resilient rural communities are important to everyone. And if we don’t fill these divides and bring people together, it will as indicated before, it will continue to erode our democracy and will hurt us across the country. And divisions of haves and have-nots and societies have taught us it results in greater instability for everyone. So it is a really important topic and an important time in our country’s history to address these issues.

Daniel Paul Davis

So I’m hearing loud and clear we have to meet the moment, like rural America is us, it’s an important part of the fiber of who the United States is. It’s a significant portion with over a fifth of the population. That it holds a special place in the future of the US as well, thinking about future industries, sustainability, climate, those things, that this is the moment where we have to be talking about what’s happening for rural.

I want to invite Andrew into the conversation here in a moment because we’re going to co-facilitate this panel discussion. But before Andrew, I hand it over to you, I just want to share with our audience members again that do send along your questions. You can type those right into the chat feature on the webinar tool, or you can drop those to us at communities@stls.frb.org. Andrew, I’ll pass it over to you.

Andrew Dumont

Great, thank you, Daniel. And I’ll just plug the book again before I turn back to the panel. You can download that today on St. Louis’s website. So I encourage you to do that after the webinar, after you’re done paying wrapped attention to the conversation. So that was a great summation, Daniel. I also heard if you care about equity, you need to focus on rural because despite much popular beliefs, there are many communities of color across rural that are deserving of investment.

So Marietta, I want to turn to you now and talk a little bit more about the framework that we introduced earlier and ask you how do the elements of the framework, which again are tailored, resilient, inclusive, and collaborative, compare to the way NeighborWorks America and your network organizations approach your work? Can you think of a couple of examples that demonstrate what these look like in practice?

Marietta Rodriguez

Sure. It’s a great question. I think the TRIC framework aligns with the fundamental beliefs NeighborWorks America holds dear, the way we approach building capacity of our network organizations on the ground, the way we work a vision of building communities of opportunity with a model that’s really centered on the residents in those communities and in really being inclusive of all voices and with a strong eye to collaboration.

We really support activities that are tailored to meeting the needs of the community, of what the residents are saying and advancing principles of true comprehensive community development in the creation of a physical, economic social resiliency that can withstand the next crisis or the next natural disaster. And we do this by really investing in all community assets, especially the people in those communities.

Some examples that I think of are our organization, CASA of Oregon, is developing disaster resilient plans for resident-owned manufactured housing communities and they’re really empowering them to be prepared for the next disaster. Comite in San Luis Arizona mobilized vaccination efforts for border and farm worker communities throughout Arizona. Wealth Watchers in Jacksonville, Florida, providing workforce skills in agricultural and construction trades, opportunities for home ownership and youth centered programming, again to reduce barriers in communities of color in Florida.

But what all of these examples have in mind is the NeighborWorks organization is meeting a community need, tailored, building community strength, speaks to resiliency, considering all residents needs, being inclusive, and working with partners to leverage resources and assets in the community. Again, being collaborative. So I think it really echoes the way we approach our work.

Andrew Dumont

Thank you for that, Marietta. And I would note we did not coordinate on this, but if you want to learn more about Wealth Watchers, Carrie Davis wrote a chapter in the book and did a great work. So another reason to check it out.

So Lisa, I’m going to turn to you. Coming from the CDFI world, what about the framework resonates most strongly with you and the work of OFN’s members?

Lisa Mensah

Well, like Marietta, I see much in this TRIC framework to going about building prosperity that resonates. But I’ll focus on the first one, tailored. And I think you make in the book a clarion call to fit the strategy with the place and the actors. And I think that’s kind of heart and soul of community development financial institution investing. We are a field that’s emerged from our place, we are as diverse as America. And I think by really starting this off with tailored, I know is a great way to make an acronym, but I think you really leaned in hard on why place matters and you’ve got to have the fit that makes sense. I want to note a couple of our members that I think embody this. There was a group of members that came together, formed the Partnership for Rural Transformation, and our member, FAHE, the Federation of Appalachian Housing Enterprises, led a lot of that work. They were really tailoring what is it that rural CDFIs that focus on persistent poverty places need to do? What is it they need? How are they different?

I think this tailored approach would say look at efforts like that. And then too, I think tailored is the watch word for our native CDFIs. They are so grounded in place and they really understand what the need is. Is it small business? Is it housing? And I think these kind of strategies that allow us to build prosperity for right what fits the case. And I’ll end with the affordable homes of South Texas, one of our members who is building affordable home ownership opportunities right there in the border areas of South Texas. To me it’s a brilliant strategy for really tailoring a product that meets the need of customers right there. So I’m going to lean into your first part of the framework, but there’s so much good here.

Andrew Dumont

I appreciate that. And so we’ve talked to Marietta and Lisa heading up great national networks of organizations that are in the community doing this work, talked about some great examples.

Donna, I want to turn to you, you’re a little bit closer to the ground. And I just wanted to ask you, how do you see this framework applying to the work of someone like you who is supporting access to capital in a specific rural region? How do you think about it? How should folks out there on the ground be thinking about this and how it relates to their work?

Donna Gambrell

Thanks, Andrew. Well, I think like Marietta and Lisa, and Justin I’m sure would weigh in as well, that the framework applies very purposely and very well to the work that we’re all doing. So Appalachian Community Capital is an intermediary CDFI. And when you think about the region, the region itself starts at the bottom tip of New York, follows the Appalachian Mountains all the way down to the top part of Mississippi. It includes all of West Virginia and portions of 12 other states, 423 counties. And so you’ve got a very large area that is economically diverse, geographically diverse certainly. And I think when you look at the region itself and our members, there are 26 members that comprise Appalachian Community Capital. These are longstanding high performing CDFIs that have been doing the hard work for decades. They are in eastern Kentucky, they are in the hills and hollers of parts of North Carolina and Virginia and Mississippi and other places.

And so one of the pieces of this primary of course is collaborative. I think ACC in and of itself is a collaborative organization because we’re working with all 26 of those members to look at ways in which we can have greater impact in the region. And it doesn’t just include those 26 members. Those members are their own independent CDFIs. And so they are working on the ground in communities in a very collaborative fashion with others, whether it’s local business leaders, community leaders, residents, you name it. I mean we have I think just a tremendous ecosystem in terms of the collaborative work that’s being done in the region.

The fact that we are such a diverse area, I think you have to tailor the work that we do and be very intentional about that work that you cannot… One glove, one size does not fit all within the region. And so there are areas that have greater needs. It may be small business, it may be housing, it may be micro loans, it may be agriculture. And if you don’t tailor the work to those needs, then I think you miss the opportunity. I think we do a very good job of that.

And for ACC it, we are also a convener. And so we look at ways and we certainly listen very carefully to the community, to those grassroots leaders and say, “What’s missing here? Where’s the niche that we can fill? Or where’s the niche that we all can fill in working together?” And we certainly have seen that in a number of initiatives that I can certainly talk about later. But one most recently was one where we looked at specific areas within Southeast Ohio, Southwest Virginia and West Virginia. These were opportunity zones that we identified where there was actual need and where people were already… Project sponsors were already working on projects. And we said, “What can we do?” And they said, “One of the things that’s missing for us is that we don’t have always the right technical assistance providers, the right type of support when we’re working on these projects.”

And so ACC served as a TA matchmaker, if you will. We went out and actually did a very formal process of identifying those providers, matching them with the projects, bringing in funders, not just opportunity zone funders, but new markets tax credits, other CDFIs, historical tax credit funders as well to encourage them to invest in those projects. And I must say that we had great success. It could not have happened, Andrew, without us working together with those other entities within the region itself.

Andrew Dumont

Thank you for that, Donna. And we know from long history of research the importance of collaboration, not least of which the long history of work at the Boston Fed whether their working cities challenge and working communities challenge now and the rural parts of their district.

So Justin, I’m going to turn to you now. You’re in a big government agency, it’s hard to move things, it’s hard to steer the ship. How are you thinking about the framework? And are these sort of ideas relevant for whether it’s a big federal department like USDA, or a local government probably has many similar features to what you are working with there? So how are you thinking about that?

Justin Maxson

So I mean the first thing I want to do is just flip it on its head for half a minute and ask why aren’t these ideas more integrated into all of the development work that we do, right? You just said a long history of work that reflects the importance of collaboration. I think there is data and defensible research that supports, I think, all of these elements. And why are we still here in 2021? Andrew?

Andrew Dumont

That’s a great question.

Justin Maxson

Well, I mean just think it’s worth… The problem isn’t we don’t know how to do it. I mean, I think there’s a lot of experience and a lot of expertise. There’s a scale problem, there’s an access to resource problem, there’s probably a political problem and other challenges that get in the way of I think making this framework real. So I would just ask us to all ask the question, right? I think we know a lot about what makes development work. And I think the question is like, how do we do it at scale and what does it take for a community’s organizations and networks to get access to the resources that they need in places where the economy is challenged to actually see the scale of development a result that we want? How do we make the market work better in places where either it’s caused really problematic externalities like Appalachia in the case of Cole in addition to lots of employment.

So I would just start there. I mean there’s a lot to say about the framework. I will say, I think under Secretary Vilsack’s leadership in this administration in particular, there’s a real interest in equity and inclusion and there are all sorts of efforts to drive tailoring and inclusivity in a more collaborative approach to a development. In the Build Back Better legislation, there’s a rural partnership program that is a billion dollars of the Glue resources aimed to give organizations and networks access to the resources they need to do the work together based on their assets in their places. And it’s strategy agnostic, right? We aren’t telling anybody what they should do. We would support groups in a place who are articulating what they think the strategies are that make sense in their communities.

We’re developing a building off of… Under the Obama administration, there was an effort that was called StrikeForce, which aimed to be a more collaborative effort within USDA about how we bring more of our programs to communities. We’re doing a version of that that is built on some of that DNA, but aims to be a whole of government effort where there’s much more collaboration in places between EDA and USDA and HUD and EPA that is really centered in a network of organizations that are trying to figure out how to better access the federal family of resources to build on their assets.

So there’s a lot about the framework that I think is showing up in a bunch of the policy ideas and proposals that we hope we’ll see get resources and authorization under the Build Back Better legislation. I mean, yeah I will say I’ve been doing some version of this work for 27 years and there’s a lot in the framework that feels familiar and I think resonates with a lot of our experiences. So why isn’t the philanthropic community, the government and others really leaning into what I think we know there’s a lot of efficacy around?

Andrew Dumont

Yeah. I would just plug, there are some folks that are doing this really well and many examples in the book of that and what it looks like if you’re coming from a philanthropic organization, if you’re a community based organization, considerations for folks coming from government. And just in our chapter, I would say we put some questions out there to get people thinking, right? “What is my role? How should I be thinking about this? How can I incorporate this into my work?” Just some examples on thought-provoking questions that folks can ask themselves, “What is my role in helping move this forward and what barriers may exist?” So Daniel, I’m going to turn it over to you for another round here before we turn to the audience.

Daniel Paul Davis

Thanks, Andrew. And I’ve been monitoring questions coming in from the audience over here and they are robust, so we want to save some time to get to those. But I do have a couple of questions I want to get to our panelists about really digging into how to advance opportunities, or practices even, that are consistent with these ideas in rural communities. So Donna, maybe I’ll start with you. Curious, we’ve got a section of our audience today who are coming from philanthropic funders, to private investors, to local, state and federal government agencies. What can they do to support organizations in their efforts to undertake rural development activities that are consistent with the ideas of the framework?

Donna Gambrell

That’s a great question, Daniel. There’s a saying that money can’t buy everything, but I’ve often said that it buys some things. And I think you always have to look at capital and I think you have to look at what kind of capital, how to direct that capital, how it’s being used not only by the organizations, but how the philanthropic organization or the lender or whoever that may be that’s providing it, how they’re working in partnership with that organization or with that community. Because we all know that if you put money in a project, especially as it relates to community development, the change is not going to happen overnight. And so if that’s the expectation, we need to start to rethink our mindset and help our supporters, our funders, our investors and others, really shape or reshape the thinking about what investment looks like. It is long term, it is low cost, it’s patient capital, number one.

And then after you look at that capital, I think you have to look at all the other wraparound support services that come with that. It might be technical assistance, business advisory services, technology. All of that goes hand in hand I think with what a good ally, a good investor, a good funder should be looking at as they look holistically at what’s required to help revitalize communities.

And the other thing is that, again, everything doesn’t happen overnight and it doesn’t happen all at once. And so I think to be very strategic and say there might be some small victories along the way that culminate into a larger victory at the end of the day, but it may not be something that happens all at once. And so I think it’s also managing expectations of those organizations that are wanting to be supporters and wanting to be good allies in partnership with organizations that are at the grassroots levels in the communities that we serve.

Daniel Paul Davis

This idea of everything doesn’t happen overnight and it doesn’t happen all at once is so salient to me. And we hear that, I think it’s just real in the communities where we’re all doing work today. It connects to a question that I want to ask you, Marietta, because I think this idea of the compounded challenges that some rural communities are experiencing didn’t arrive where they are overnight or all at once.

Marietta Rodriguez


Daniel Paul Davis

So are there barriers, Marietta, that maybe some communities or certain communities face that are greater than others whenever they’re seeking to adopt these kinds of approaches? And I think to build on that as well, what’s really needed to create conditions for success and historically challenged rural areas?

Marietta Rodriguez

Such a great question. So to the first part of that, yes, unfortunately we know that rural areas have historically missed opportunities for economic investment that it leads to advancement and resilience. And so there’s a lot of catch up there. And I agree 110% with Donna’s point, this doesn’t happen overnight. We can’t turn the tide overnight. It requires a long term commitment and investment. And when you layer on rural communities of color have experienced more disinvestment over the last two centuries, it creates even more barriers and hurdles. And there’s just example after example on that.

I think what’s needed to that second part of your question, I think there has to be leadership, long term leadership, a shared vision in the community with partners that come together to collaborate. I think there are some great examples happening. For example, we have nonprofits working on the ground that are filling gaps that have traditionally been filled by the private sector and they’re growing in scale and capacity.

For example, NeighboWorks, we’re supporting some native CDFIs that develop and create housing that haven’t had opportunities. Native Partnership for Housing, that does a lot of work on the Navajo reservation, for example. Both Oweesta Corporation and Lakota Funds are serving as lenders and trainers and advocates and have been critical foundations for setting the foundation for new investment coming into native communities. T.

Here are structural barriers that we have to acknowledge. Hope Enterprises in the South, for example, is really working through property rights and how Black agricultural development efforts need to be supported to provide food systems and really combating historic inequities on land ownership and home ownership that lead to food insecurity. So there are structural things. And so there’s the infrastructure on the ground that is being laid and is right for investment, but that collaboration and further investment with a long-term vision is really needed. And it’s happening, it’s just not happening in enough places. And we need to seed that in other places so we can all getting back to the equity issue that we addressed to the beginning.

Daniel Paul Davis

Yeah. Thanks, Marietta. This idea of the long term commitment and investment I think goes to a question, Justin, I want to ask you because I think when folks look at federal government and the commitment, the biggest maybe investments in rural come from the agency you work with, so USDA. So curious, what barriers maybe continue to prevent some rural communities from accessing the full array of programs that USDA Rural Development has available to them? And what actions is USDA taking to reduce or eliminate those barriers?

Justin Maxson

That’s a great question. I think our application processes can be complicated or way too manual. I was talking to somebody about a REAP application recently, a renewable energy in America program. Their application for relatively small grant was over a hundred pages. These are paper pages. And that’s just almost unforgivable. So I think we’re trying to make strides through the smart use of technology to make it easier for rural communities to apply. Now, obviously that takes access to broadband. We are trying to strengthen our offices. We’ve got roughly about 450 offices across rural America and they’re struggling. And we’re trying to reinvest in the people and the skills for them to build the relationships and be in conversation with communities so they can really be that frontline set of resources and supports to help communities, particularly communities that are underserved or haven’t been as successful in applying for our resources.

This new effort built on StrikeForce 1.0 will be a very targeted deep effort for a few very distressed communities, including tribal nations that will put deep boots on the ground. But across USDA RD, we’re trying to make sure we’ve got our community economic development capacity in our offices so that our loan programs are investing in broader community development efforts. So that infrastructure is really part of and connected to organizations that are thinking about community transformation, not just how do we get a better multi-family housing complex, which is important, right? But to link those sorts of investments to a broader community strategy is something we’re attempting to promote. But it’s hard, right? And we have a lot of room to go toward improvement.

Daniel Paul Davis

Yeah, that’s incredible and appreciate those efforts. I think a lot of folks who are listening today appreciating what you’ve just laid out, that the steps that are being taken.

Lisa, I want to ask you a question, and this connects to some questions that our audience are asking as well, which is, the last year and a half has really brought to the forefront of so many people’s minds the challenges we still face as a nation when it comes to race. I’m curious what role CDFIs or other rural players can be fulfilling in terms of addressing the persistent racial disparities facing rural communities. And do you have any examples of how that work has advanced in the last year or so?

Lisa Mensah

Yeah, thank you so much for the question. Yes, the racial disparities have been shown and exposed for the deep fishers they are. But what’s powerful about working with a group of CDFIs is we are fixers, we are builders. We are doing something very, very practical to bring capital and change to areas which have historically been left behind. I want to give two examples. One is on the Four Bands reservation in South Dakota. The Four Bands are CDFI there. In the last 20 years, they’ve taken a community that only 1% of the businesses on the reservation were owned by Native Americans. In a population where 75% of the folks are native to now moving more than 1,500 loans to small businesses throughout that, that’s a practical step. Let’s move capital into the hands of racial minorities who can now operate, create wealth, create jobs.

Another example comes from Southern Georgia, Albany Coming Together. What I love about this one is we were able to get the Albany Coming Together group a Google loan. Google came to us and said, “How can we as a corporation take our money and move it to support racial minorities?” They were moved to do this. And we were able to place them in a million dollar loan and $150,000 grant to the Southern Georgia area. Thelma Adams was there, they’ve been working for long years. But this was important capital. As Donna said, money can’t buy you everything, but we do need some of that. So there are practical things that can be done to address deep break through equities, and that’s the kind of muscle that CDFIs bring to this fight.

Daniel Paul Davis

Oh, that’s so good, Lisa. And it does hit folks where they’re at based on these questions that are coming in. We just have a few minutes left and I want to hit maybe just one or two other questions before kind of closing with a summative question for each of you to address. A consistent theme in the questions that have come through are that a lot of the communities that our folks who are listening in participating today come from, maybe they’ve self described as low capacity, organizational capacity communities that they don’t have. Some of the technical assistance providers, Donna, that you mentioned earlier, they’re trying to figure out how to get this work done where they are. So Donna, I’m curious from you, do you have advice for them? Where do they start whenever it comes to doing this work when you feel like you just don’t have a lot of capacity when you look around you?

Donna Gambrell

Yeah, and that’s a challenge, Daniel, for sure. I mean, capacity is always an issue. I can tell you that again, one of the things that we have tried to do in the region is to first of all listen to the community in terms of what those capacity needs are and then work with organizations that have a little bit more capacity than perhaps some of those in the communities do to bring them together to provide the kind of support, expertise and knowledge that they might need on specific projects.

We’re looking to launch a project. Actually we’re already in November, so it’s launching now to expand the CDC capacity in the Appalachian region, which for, again, decades, has experienced very low capacity in that area, particularly in areas related to commercial redevelopment, manufacturing. And so what we’re doing again is pulling folks from within and outside the region and saying there are some specific areas or projects or initiatives that look like they could just go, get the green light, but here’s what they need. The community needs that capacity to do that. And so we’re helping certainly with the human resource piece, with the knowledge piece, and by the way, with the capital piece as well. And so I think that’s how you have to continue to do that. You have to look at everything and make sure that all of that is moving in the same direction.

Daniel Paul Davis

It’s fascinating that you said that as an intermediary you start with listening because there’s a lot of wisdom among our audience members today too. And somebody wrote in and they said, “I don’t see listening as explicitly spelled out. Could it be LTIRC? Listen, then you tailor. Then it goes on from there.” And so I really appreciate you calling that out because that resonates with our audience too.

Marietta, I want to come to you with a question, which is just folks come from… There’s a lot of cities represented in the audience today and they’re saying, “What can cities do? How can we partner better with rural communities?” And I know you bridge an organization that works in urban and also in rural. Do you have any advice for them? And then I’ve got one last question to wrap up our conversation.

Marietta Rodriguez

Yeah, I’ll try to be brief. I would say seek out the stakeholders, the residents and the stakeholder groups in communities to partner with them. Listen to what their needs are, what are their struggles. We have a tremendous opportunity right now. The president has signed the Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework, which will provide an infusion of capital for roads, bridges, broadband. This is an opportunity for partnerships to come together around these resources from cities, in rural communities, to come together for a vision to get this out to communities. I think if people look for stakeholder partnerships and commonalities that they care about to work on together like broadband and other issues, I think you can move an agenda very quickly, particularly right now with this infusion of capital.

Daniel Paul Davis

Oh yeah, that’s great. Good words, Marietta. I want to close here with one question and I’m going to ask you to be brief in your responses because I’m watching the clock. Marietta, I’m going to come right back to you with this one and then move down the line. So Marietta, Donna, Justin, and then Lisa. And the question is just this, if there’s one action that folks listening from home could take to advance shared prosperity in rural America, what would that one action be? So Marietta?

Marietta Rodriguez

I go back to relationships and partnerships and working together to leverage all the resources, all the community assets. I don’t necessarily always mean money, but people are assets in the community. And so coming together to build those collaborations and relationships.

Daniel Paul Davis


Donna Gambrell

Daniel, my answer actually wouldn’t be too much different from Marietta. I would just say invest. And investment happens in a lot of different ways. And so you may not have the money, but maybe you’ve got some expertise or background that can really help a community kind of spur additional projects or growth, then do it. It may be that you’re a church leader, it may be the work that you’re doing in a social service capacity, but I think there are all sorts of ways in which we contribute. So I would just use invest in a very broad sense of word and encourage people to do that.

Daniel Paul Davis

Justin, coming to you.

Justin Maxson

I hate that question. I mean, I get it, right? I would say support leadership development. The single most transformative thing that rural communities need is leaders.

Daniel Paul Davis

Lisa, you got the last word on this.

Lisa Mensah

I love this question. You have to dig a little more to know who is with you on the journey. So do not try to do this alone. Find a friend, find a CDFI, find someone who is rooted in the communities we are trying to support. And then support them. Walk together.

Daniel Paul Davis

Well, I have to say thank you to all of our panelists for your time, your expertise, just sharing your experience with us today. So Donna Gambrell from Appalachian Community Capital, Justin Maxson from the US Depart of Agriculture, Lisa Mensah from the Opportunity Finance Network, and Marietta Rodriguez from NeighborWorks America. Truly this is the highlight of my month, I think, spending this time with the four of you. And then also to Andrew Dumont from the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, who’s been a great partner over the last two years, putting together and co-editing this book, Investing in Rural Prosperity. Andrew, thanks for your energy and your time today, but your commitment to rural development work as well across this country. And for our participants that join today, thank you for the work that you’re doing in your communities and for joining our discussion today on Investing in Rural prosperity.

A couple of brief reminders. There is going to be a recording available with an audio file for everyone on the Connecting Communities’ website. And you can also find a variety of additional resources available on the Fed Communities’ website too. Lastly, go check out the St. Louis Fed’s website for this resource at stlouisfed.org/investinrural. It’ll take you right to the site with all the chapters. You can request a copy of the book there as well.

We are sharing right now a survey link if you joined us in the webinar, and that same link will be distributed via email in a few minutes. We’d appreciate your feedback. Help us know ideas for future sessions and what we can do to make this even more applicable to the work you’re doing around the country. Thank you for joining us today. This concludes today’s Connecting Communities’ webinar. Enjoy the rest of your day.

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