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Rural Matters

Jun 3, 2021

In Part III of this three-part series on Reimagining Rural Policy, produced in collaboration with and underwritten by the Brookings Institution, Michelle talks with Cheryal Hills, Executive Director of Region Five Development Commission, who has developed dozens of relationships that have secured investments to address critical issues in the rural communities of Central Minnesota and Rob Riley, president of the Northern Forest Center, who has guided the Center to become the respected regional innovation and investment partner it is today. Capacity building involve planning, learning, and adjustment and is a mix of practical application and theory, according to Hills. She describes a fascinating example of how Region Five drove a value-added regional food hub with Sprout, including serving as its fiscal host, co-authoring grants, providing business training and one-on-one technical assistance to food co-ops, co-sponsoring health and wellness mental health workshops to decrease suicide rates, helping to develop microloans, constructing a 10,000 square foot process facility, starting a mobile market, launching a winter indoor farmer’s market with food and art, and providing community supported agriculture shares (CSAs) to low-income veterans  and those in opioid recovery programs. Capacity building is the ability to be nimble in getting  things done, says Riley, and one of the challenges is identifying resources for stakeholders and enabling local communities and residents to build their own capacity in the forest economy in four Northern Forest states of New York, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. Regional collaboration is key in this area, explains Riley, and that involves connecting people who are otherwise working in isolation to expand broadband capabilities and broader markets, for example, that enables local projects to be scaled.  Hills discusses how EDA could channel funds to distressed rural areas, which could include not just employment and poverty rates but population decline and health outcome data, and develop creative programs for nonprofits and Native American tribes that  reduce match barriers. EDA can support local programs that better position rural areas to access the 25 percent set-aside to build on recreational and tourism opportunities, says Riley. The guests end the episode emphasizing the capabilities of the proposed Rural Partnership Program to be complementary with existing programs and what the future “could be” as opposed to “will be.” This episode and the entire three-part series are sponsored by the Brookings Institution,