Much of community development work in this country is understood in urban terms - densely populated areas with attendant economies of scale, housing issues that can be addressed largely in isolation of economic development and infrastructure issues, micro-level service area focus without the need to address regional economies and housing markets, even simple communications and relationship-building opportunities.
None of this is terribly surprising. After all, the community development field grew out of urban activism and experience.
The translation of urban revitalization strategies and lessons learned into a rural community development model inevitably highlights the challenges unique to highly varied rural markets. The service area is typically numerous communities, sparsely populated, covering great distances. Absent are highly visible corporate headquarters and other traditional opportunities for local private partnership. Smaller municipalities are less likely to offer a full range of services to complement any nonprofit service delivery system.
At first glance the challenges facing rural development seem daunting. Needs -- or everything that seems to be so glaringly absent -- outweigh assets. However, rural markets are well worth a second look. In the few years since NeighborWorks America launched its Rural Initiative, we've uncovered astonishing examples of innovation with enormous community impact in some of the most challenging markets in America.
We think these innovations are well worth sharing. Rural markets are often the emerging markets for expanding regional economies. The closer we look at the work being done by community based organizations, and in particular, chartered members of the NeighborWorks network, the more we realize that these organizations function as front line economic engines for increased homeownership, infrastructure improvements, job creation and retention.
This report documents the compelling attributes of six business strategies that are successfully transforming diverse rural markets across America. Our hope is that this exciting new information, the first of a series, will stimulate numerous and varied adaptations within the community development field and spur additional investment in rural development by the private and public sectors.