Small communities may not have as many resources as metropolitan areas, but can still use available resources to grow.
This was the focus of Great Lakes Community Action Partnership (formerly WSOS Community Action Commission) Community Development Coordinator Ben Kenny’s presentation, "Economic Development in a Rural Community Action Agency," at the National Community Action Partnership Conference, Aug. 29-Sept. 1 in Philadelphia.
Kenny, who has worked in the field for more than 30 years, brought his experience to the conference workshop that included Rebecca Reynolds, executive director of Little Dixie Community Action in Hugo, Okla., to discuss rural economic development. He explained some of the community programming offered through GLCAP, including the Building Rural Prosperity project now underway in eight Ohio communities. Funded by a USDA Rural Community Development Initiative grant, the project involves aligning local government officials and business leaders to assess existing assets and create strategies for growth.
"We aren’t necessarily talking about building readiness for potential large manufacturers to move into communities and provide employment," Kenny said.
Instead, building upon a diverse group of small businesses and manufacturers often provides the best opportunities for community growth.
"Most new jobs in rural communities are created by growth-oriented small businesses or small manufacturers — those that employ under 100 people," Kenny said.
Likewise, coordinating educational resources with business and industry helps communities develop plans for future workforce training, as well as making youth aware that employment opportunities exist in their own home towns.
Kenny also presented multiple strategies that are available to rural areas for growth. Community partners may fund, for example, a "maker space" that houses 3D printers, CNC machines, sewing machines and other tools available to the public for developing prototype designs, new fabrications and other uses.
"Even if there aren’t as many resources available in small rural communities, these communities can utilize creative options for promoting development," Kenny said.