Rural Outreach Initiative: Investment & Revitalization

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Small towns and rural communities throughout the United States are looking for ways to strengthen their economies, provide better quality of life, and build on local assets. Many rural communities and small towns are facing challenges, including rapid growth at metropolitan edges, declining rural populations, and loss of open spaces and declining downtowns.


Bring Life & Vitality to Downtowns in Rural Communities
Small towns and communities in rural communities around the Country are looking for ways to bring life and vitality back to their downtowns. Tune in to hear strategies 3 – Better Block to reshape and reactivate built environments; Main Street Downtown Assessment for community-driven, comprehensive revitalization; and Transforming Neighborhoods to turn vacant, abandoned, and deteriorated properties into community assets – being undertaken by communities to bring life, and people, back to their communities.  Listen to the recorded version and download the presentations:

News & Resources

Build Back Rural – New Investments in Rural Capacity, People, and Innovation: The Build Back Better Act makes foundational investments in the capacity of rural communities and regional intermediaries. It also provides for building block investments in new energy systems, restored landscapes, and broadband.

Rural Placemaking Innovation Challenge Grant  – USDA is making up to $3 million in cooperative agreement grants available under the Rural Placemaking Innovation Challenge (RPIC). Eligible entities may use the funds to help rural communities create plans to enhance capacity for broadband access; preserve cultural and historic structures; and support development in transportation, housing, and recreational spaces.

Join USDA to learn about the Fiscal Year 2021 funding opportunity known as Strategic Economic and Community Development (SECD). We encourage you to join if your work supports regional community development or promotes rural economic diversity.  SECD encourages and promotes regional economic and community strategic planning in rural America.

USDA is seeking grant applications for projects to improve housing, community facilities, and community and economic development in rural areas. Grants will be established through USDA’s Rural Community Development Initiative (RCDI) program. Eligible recipients include public bodies, nonprofit organizations, and qualified private (for-profit) organizations.  Grants will be awarded to organizations that will use the USDA funding to provide support to entities to develop their capacity to undertake projects that will benefit rural communities. Applicants must provide matching funds in an amount at least equal to the federal grant.

Rural Voices – the latest issue of Rural Voices includes articles on cultivating citizen-led design in rural areas and hopes to spark conversations and ideas about what a sense of place in your town or community can look like-for all.

Building Resilient Rural Places: Strategies from local leaders to strengthen rural assets, diversity, and dynamism.  A five-part series presents an on-the-ground analysis from three rural U.S. communities with insights from residents, small business owners, and local leaders about the place-based economic development strategies that are bringing opportunity to their communities

Rural Relief Small Business Grants  – More assistance for small businesses. Apply for the next round of LISC Rural Relief Small Business Grants. As part of their continuing commitment to elevate their impact in rural America, OneLISC is inviting small business owners in rural locations across the country to apply for the LISC-Lowe’s Rural Relief Small Business Grants program. Deadlines: December 29, 2020 – January 5, 2021; and January 26 – February 2, 2021. To find out more about who is eligible, to sign up for updates, and to apply, visit the LISC website.

“The Impact of Coronavirus on Households in Rural America” –  the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, National Public Radio, and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation reports on the experiences of rural households during the COVID-19 pandemic. Authors discuss impacts on finances, employment, healthcare, housing, food, and child care. Concerns related to healthcare include access to care during the pandemic, concerns for those with special health issues such as chronic conditions, and use of telehealth.

Community development needs to be anti-racist: Over the last few weeks, thousands of rural communities have come together to call for an end to racial injustice in America. At Rural LISC, we have long stood with those who are working for change, progress and innovation in Rural America to build a society where every life is sacred.

How Protests Spread to Small-Town America: There have been Black Lives Matter protests in more cities and towns than any set of demonstrations in U.S. history. Rather than traveling to the nearest big city, residents are determined to take a stand close to home.

In Search of Good Rural Data: Measuring Rural Prosperity: Economic and demographic data drive research, policy development, distribution of government resources, and private investment decisions. But many of the datasets that policymakers, practitioners, and researchers rely on to understand —and guide resources to—rural communities fall short in representing rural realities. The search for “good” rural data is timely.

A Few Things to Know about Rural America: Want to know the basics of who and what rural America is, or to be able to explain some basic but important facts about rural America to someone you know?

How Outdoor Recreation Supports Rural Economic Development:  Investing in outdoor recreation is one of several strategies that can help rural communities thrive in a changing economy.

Rural Prosperity Through the Arts and Creative Sector: A Rural Action Guide for Governors and States: provides economic data, almost 100 stories/case studies, and a policy framework of strategies for incorporating arts and culture into community development plans.

Redesign Required: Principles for Reimagining Federal Rural Policy in the COVID-19 Era: The COVID-19 crisis is testing America’s resilience. In new analysis, CSG Associate Director Katharine Ferguson, along with Tony Pipa and Natalie Geismar at the Brookings Institution, make the case for reimagining federal policy for rural and tribal areas.

COVID-19 Rural Resources and Information: CSG is regularly updating its resource page with new helpful links to tribal, county, state and federal information, news on COVID-19 as well as sector specific resources for housing and business.

USDA Implements Immediate Measures to Help Rural Residents, Businesses and Communities Affected by COVID-19:  USDA Rural Development has taken a number of immediate actions to help rural residents, businesses and communities affected by the COVID-19 outbreak.

AARP Rural Livability Workshop Report: The population of America’s small towns and rural communities is aging at a faster rate than the nation’s population as a whole. With chapters about health care, transportation, housing, public spaces, extreme weather — and the importance of high-speed internet and community connections — the AARP Rural Livability Workshop Report can help local leaders recognize the needs, benefits, challenges and solutions found in rural places.

Rural America and the Senate’s Economic Stimulus Package: The multi-million dollar stimulus package contains crucial provisions for rural programs.

USDA Implements Immediate Measures to Help Rural Residents, Businesses and Communities Affected by COVID-19: USDA Rural Development has taken a number of immediate actions to help rural residents, businesses and communities affected by the COVID-19 outbreak.

New Index Reveals the ‘Hidden Innovation’ of Rural America: Traditional measurements of economic innovation ignore the ways rural businesses create new goods, services, and techniques. A study from the Northeast Regional Center for Rural Development at Penn State shows a new way to measure innovation

Commentary: How to Make Rural Development More Than Industrial Recruitment: Small towns have more to offer than cheap land and tax abatements. Building a development plan based on holistic community needs can be a recipe for economic and social success.

Rural design as an engine for improving quality of life – Nearly half of the communities  who participated in a Citizens’ Institute on Rural Design (CIRD) training identified downtown development as their primary design challenge. But economic development was not the only priority as around one third of the communities also brought up challenges related to housing, arts and culture, and transportation infrastructure.

Rebuilding Main Street in Rural America: How to Engage Support, Find Funding and Build a Stronger Community – Downtowns are the lifeblood of our communities. In small towns across the country, Main Street plays a critical role in bringing residents together to shop, socialize, and share in the collective experience of living in rural America– whether it’s over a cup of coffee at the local gas station or lunch in the café. In an increasingly digital age, downtowns play a critical role in connecting residents and creating a sense of community.

Adversity and Assets: Identifying Rural Opportunities – Economic restructuring and policy decisions over the past several decades have hollowed out opportunity across the United States and left many rural communities behind. At the same time, agglomeration effects and the growth of the technology and service sectors have boosted the growth of major cities, while rural areas shrink.   While some rural communities have yet to recover from the Great Recession, others have thrived by utilizing local assets. Rural communities are not an economic liability to the country; every rural community has a unique combination of assets in which they can invest to grow and promote resilience.

National Park Service Announces $5 Million in Grants to Support Preservation in Rural Communities – The National Park Service (NPS) today announced $5 million in Historic Revitalization Subgrant Program (HRSP) grants to nine projects to support the preservation of historic buildings in rural communities across the country.

Along These Lines: Electric Co-Ops are fighting back – NRECA podcast covers the diminishing access to health care in many of the country’s rural areas: In towns where incomes and populations are in decline, local hospitals and clinics are closing at an alarming rate, and doctors are leaving or opting to settle elsewhere, but electric co-ops are fighting back with some creative, community-focused solutions.

The Candidates and Rural Policy: A Quick Guide – The Daily Yonder, working with the Rural Assembly, identified a dozen rural-policy advocates with firsthand knowledge about the impact of federal policy in rural communities.  They named the top policies they would like to see 2020 presidential candidates address and eventually enact.  New or increased funding for rural programs is on the agenda. But other themes include a call for inclusion, cultural parity, redirecting programs for more community impact, and holding large institutions accountable for the way they serve rural America.

NEA Announces Funding and TA for Rural Communities – National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Director of Design and Creative Placemaking Jennifer Hughes announced the opening of the 2019 Citizens’ Institute on Rural Design with a call for funding and technical assistance applications. This NEA program offers assistance to communities with populations of 50,000 or less to address local challenges related to economic vitality and quality of life through design solutions. Nonprofits, tribal or municipal governments, regional planning organizations, and other community partners are encouraged to apply by the July 22, 2019 deadline.

Rural needs noted at Community Reinvestment Act hearingOn April 9, the House Financial Services’ Subcommittee on Consumer Protection and Financial Institutions held a hearing entitled “The Community Reinvestment Act: Assessing the Law’s Impact on Discrimination and Redlining.” The hearing focused on how CRA could better reach underserved communities, and rural members like Reps. Scott Tipton (R-CO) and David Kustoff (R-TN) brought up the importance of making sure CRA works well for rural America. Some of the experts testifying at the hearing also specifically highlighted rural CRA needs.

Vermont Remote Worker Grant Program: created by the Vermont Legislature to encourage professionals interested in moving to Vermont to make the leap.  Vermont announced plans to pay up to $10,000 to people who move to the state on or after January 1, 2019, and work remotely.

The House Committee on Agriculture held a hearing on February 27 on the “State of the Rural Economy”.  NAR sent a letter thanking the Chairman and Ranking member for holding the hearing.  Nearly 20 percent of the U.S. population lives in rural areas or small towns and nearly all of the counties with the highest poverty rates in America are rural. The National Association of REALTORS®® (NAR) recognizes the uniqueness of rural communities and the key role that housing plays in building strong communities. Specialized programs, like those of the Rural Housing Service, are critical to meeting the needs of Americans living in rural areas.

Organizations & Agencies

Rural Community Assistance Partnership – RCAP is a national network of non-profit organizations working to provide technical assistance, training, resources, and support to rural communities across the United States, tribal lands, and U.S. territories to ensure rural communities access to safe drinking water and sanitary waste disposal.

REALTORS® Land Institute: The Voice of Land, continually strives to maintain its status as the acknowledged leader for all matters pertaining to the land real estate profession

Community Builders: Provides resources and technical assistance to help local leaders build livable communities across the American West.

Rural LISC: created to expand LISC’s reach beyond urban areas to include rural communities by helping them identify challenges and opportunities and delivering the most appropriate support to meet local needs.

Center for Rural Strategies: helps to establish a rural America that is more connected and more inclusive through work on strategic communications, coalition building, public information campaigns, and public policy.

  • National Rural Assembly, works at local, regional, and national levels to build more opportunity and better policy for rural communities across the country.
  • Daily Yonder: news, commentary, reports from our rural correspondents. Special reports on the big issues facing small communities — health, employment, broadband access, education, and economic development. Tracks how national policies are reaching (or ignoring) rural communities.

LOR Foundation: supports the prosperity and preserve the character of rural communities throughout the Mountain West.

Rural Economic Development Innovation (REDI) initiative – provides free technical assistance for up to two years to help rural towns and regions create and implement economic development plans. USDA’s Innovation Center created the REDI initiative to support recommendations identified in the Report to the President of the United States from the Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity. The recommendations outline steps to develop the rural economy and support quality of life.

USDA Rural Development: USDA Rural Development is committed to helping improve the economy and quality of life in rural America. Through their programs, they help rural Americans in many ways.

Environmental Protection Agency: Smart Growth in Small Towns and Rural Communities – Smart growth strategies can help rural communities achieve their goals for growth and development while maintaining their distinctive rural character.