Arizona Rural Policy Forum Inspires Collaboration

Contributed by Erica Pederson, Communications Director with Local First Arizona.

In August, individuals representing every county in Arizona descended on Clarkdale, Arizona, for the 9th Annual Arizona Rural Policy Forum. The forum connects rural economic development specialists, nonprofits, community leaders, business owners, and other folks interested in sustaining small towns and rural communities.

This year, the event was hosted in Clarkdale, a small town in the Verde Valley about 90 minutes north of Phoenix. Like many of Arizona’s rural towns, Clarkdale has its roots in mining. Founded in 1912 as the first planned model town to house workers from the copper mines in Jerome and their families, Clarkdale operated as a company smelter town until 1953.

Today, only 10 squares miles in size with about 4,100 residents, Clarkdale honors its past with the acclaimed Arizona Copper Art Museum, the John Bell Museum at the Verde Canyon Railroad, and the Clarkdale Historical Society and Museum. Clarkdale’s large historic district boasts many preserved and revitalized homes and buildings keeping the original spirit of Clarkdale alive.

Several themes stood out at this year's event. Throughout the Forum, we discussed non-traditional ideas that would lead to economic development opportunities for rural areas.

One session featured speakers from different communities who have leveraged arts and culture to revitalize their towns. We discovered that supporting a thriving arts scene in any town has many benefits that lead to economic drivers, including retaining more young people, driving tourism, attracting higher wage jobs, and preserving older buildings. We also talked about how rural communities can use their assets to create unique events and tourism spots to encourage out-of-towners to spend tourism dollars in their towns.

Another theme was building wealth for rural communities. Consistent funding is important for sustainable longevity in any community. At the Rural Policy Forum we explored the ways rural communities can build wealth for themselves.

We hosted a roundtable discussion with nearly all of the rural funders in Arizona so that rural nonprofits could find their best fit for funding. We also talked about the transfer of wealth in rural communities and the steps they can take to keep those dollars circulating in their own towns. Through understanding these strategies, Arizona’s rural communities will thrive.

What bound everything together at the forum was collaboration. By working together, we can accomplish more and build prosperity for all of Arizona’s rural communities.

Feature image: Local First Arizona Director Kimber Lanning with Rural Policy Forum attendees at Clarkdale's Copper Art Museum. Photo by Local First Arizona. For more information, contact Erica Pederson at 602.956.0909 or erica@localfirstaz.com.