Community Development

Communities that invest in themselves can better keep and attract the people who energize communities and create new businesses.

Throughout America, many rural communities are losing people, businesses, jobs, and vibrancy. It’s time for a rural recovery.

Building Blocks for Rural Recovery

Rural residents want stable communities, family farms, small businesses, and local schools. Rural areas have the building blocks of their own recovery:

  • Community infrastructures are intact - rural communities have existing schools, churches, town governments, housing, and water/sanitary systems.
  • Rural areas are full of entrepreneurs - there are twice as many sole proprietorships in the plains rural counties compared to urban counties, and 70% of net job growth in these counties in the past has been in non-farm self-employment.
  • Farms generate commerce - a single-family farm contributes $720,000 to the local economy, or the equivalent of eight $40,000 "town jobs". On average, 7 farms support 1 town business.

Rural communities can build on these assets to strengthen themselves in two ways:

  1. Feed the entrepreneurial spirit. We can recognize that rural people are willing and able to make their own jobs when the roadblocks are removed and the resources are available. 
  2. Reinvigorate the agricultural sector. We can reverse the trend of declining farm share of the food dollar by finding ways for farmers and ranchers to reduce their input costs and to take back more of the processing and marketing share. 

An Integrated Approach

The Center for Rural Affairs has offered services to rural communities for several years. We focus on providing:

  • Accessing Much Needed Resources
  • Learning to Lead Others
  • Helping to Have a Direct Influence in Policy
  • Starting Creative and Innovative Community Projects
  • Encouraging Youth to Live and Work in Rural Areas
  • Developing a Vision for the Community
  • Starting New Ventures within the Community
  • Building Support for the Area and Community

A pilot project began in northern Nebraska’s Cedar County. Together with community organizations and government, we designed leadership classes, did the first-ever town/rural citizen-and-student survey, unearthed new business and community betterment ideas, and jump-started citizen-led projects. The Center provides our own expertise as well as connections to others that can help with implementation.

Key Issues

Rural Schools - Public policy that pressures small schools into consolidation through underfunding and incentives is counter-productive. As schools get larger, educational results generally worsen. The academic, social and communal advantages of smaller schools are lost. It makes little sense for the best interest of communities and society to adopt public policy that worsens the achievement of outcomes of our schools and students. 

Building Rural Leaders - Leaders often guide others in setting direction, opinions, and action. They play a critical role in shaping the future. Training and commitment can make typical citizens into effective leaders. The Leadership Training page presents tips on helping to shape public opinion about an issue or activity. 


Contact Kathie Starkweather for information on the community revitalization aspects of our work. 

Visit the Rural Opportunities and Stewardship Program page for more ideas.

Community Development Notes

 

Regional Food Systems in Nebraska: Report on Consumer, Producer, and Institutional Focus Groups

In February 2013, the Center for Rural Affairs (CFRA) released a report Regional Food Systems in Nebraska: The Views of Consumers, Producers and Institutions, analyzing the results of a survey responded to by Nebraskans on local food system issues.

After the survey was completed, CFRA held a series of focus groups for each of the project relevant groups – consumers, producers, food-serving institutions and grocery stores. This supplemental report provides findings and observations from those focus groups.

File attachments: 

Byway of Art Project a Finalist!

A handful of neighboring communities and the Center for Rural Affairs are finalists for an ArtPlace grant: a nationwide competition to fund various avant-garde ‘public art’ projects.

Accessible and built from community involvement and collaboration, public art often speaks to a community’s sense of ‘place.’ Communities gain social, cultural, and economic value. Public spaces are invigorated, and communities gain uniqueness.

Communities Strengthened through Business to Business Connections

New immigrants have started new businesses throughout the country. However, in small towns with growing new immigrant populations, we found that few long-time residents patronize these new businesses. And few new immigrants patronize long-time residents’ businesses. It seems like a missed opportunity.

Language barriers or the fear of not being welcome are often causes. How can you break through that barrier? We asked that question in two small towns recently. Part of the answer seems to be in developing inclusive “Business to Business” tours.