WERA1005: Addressing the Rural Development Concerns of the Rural West
Statement of Issues and JustificationIn a rapidly changing world, the issues and concerns confronting the residents and communities of the rural west are very different from the concerns of the past (Albrecht 2007). These concerns are greatly compounded by the recent economic downturn and the fiscal constraints this imposes on state and local governments. At the same time, opportunities exist for rural areas that were previously unavailable (McKibben 2007). To better understand both the problems and opportunities confronting the rural west, the Western Rural Development Center conducted a series of rural roundtables, one in each of the 13 states comprising the western region during 2009. The purpose of these roundtables was to prioritize the issues and concerns confronting the rural west and suggest options for addressing these concerns. More than 200 people participated, including representatives from educational institutions, officials from federal, state, tribal and local governments, nonprofit organizations and private business people. There was extensive agreement throughout the western region about the major concerns. The three major concerns that consistently emerged were: 1. Enhance human capacity through people-based rural development. With a decline in traditional sources of rural employment, such as natural resource extraction and manufacturing, it is increasingly apparent that the education, skills and training of many rural workers do not translate easily into the education, skills and training needed for high quality employment in today's global economy (Carr and Kefalas 2009). There is a great need to better understand these concerns and then develop programs to help rural communities improve the educational and workforce skills and leadership capabilities of their residents. Training programs geared toward underserved, low income and minority populations are especially essential. 2. Create vibrant rural economies through place-based rural development. In recent decades, there has been a steady decline in employment levels in the traditional mainstays of the rural economy, which include agriculture, the natural resource industries and manufacturing (Morris and Western 1999). Subsequently, the traditional approaches used by communities to create economic opportunities are much less effective than in the past. In today's global world, the opportunities for resource development are limited and the traditional "buffalo hunt" for industrial firms is more costly, and the odds of success are greatly reduced. Yet, in today's global world, there are community development opportunities that were simply unavailable in previous eras. With computers, the Internet and cell phones, it is now possible for individuals and firms to be connected to the global world while enjoying the benefits of rural living. To take advantage of these opportunities, rural development efforts should focus on several options that include encouraging the emergence and growth of local firms through entrepreneurial development, creating value-added opportunities for agricultural and natural resource products, and encouraging individuals with geographically mobile or creative class occupations to utilize modern technology and establish their home in a rural community. Research and extension insights are needed to understand the benefits and costs of these various options and then develop programs to help these ideas become a reality. 3. Promote sustainable natural resource systems. From the time of the initial settlement of the western U.S., residents were attracted to areas where available natural resources allowed them to earn an economic livelihood. Much has changed in recent decades. Employment levels in resource-based industries have declined considerably. In some cases, legal and cultural changes have greatly limited opportunities for rural residents to utilize natural resources for their economic livelihood. Fortunately, in many instances there is a sustainable balance that can be achieved through open dialogue, conflict resolution, and thoughtful planning. There is a great need for scientifically sound research, balanced policy initiatives and educational forums to help rural communities make informed decisions and take appropriate action relative to natural resource issues. This proposed regional project will provide a forum to bring researchers, extension professionals, community leaders and policy makers together to better understand these issues and develop programs to address them. We envision this regional project as the forum to bring together all researchers and extension professionals involved in rural community development.
Last Modified: 22-Jun-2010
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