A new NaCo report offers some good advice for Ashtabula County. For rural communities facing seemingly intractable economic challenges, sometimes the solutions are hidden in plain sight. Or, right across the county line. This is the premise of Cultivating a Competitive Advantage: How Rural Counties are Growing Economies with Local Assets and Regional Partners, a new report (November 2014) from the National Association of Counties.
Many rural areas are faced with chronic challenges, including population decline, loss of traditional industries, and poor infrastructure. The communities profiled in the report identified and developed their unique, internal strengths and ensured regional vitality by partnered with their neighbors. A few highlights include:
- Workforce Development – Grafton County, N.H.: To curb an exodus of young workers and to fill the vacuum left by retirees, the county placed high schools students in internships at local businesses for school credit, lessening the need for businesses to recruit from outside the county. Another talent-retention strategy involved partnering with Plymouth State University to create an incubator tailored to local workforce and business needs.
- Community Development – Phillips County, Ark.: Situated in the Mississippi Delta, Phillips County formed the Delta Bridge Project, a public-private partnership to align economic and community development efforts. The project achieved buy-in from local stakeholders and developed a strategic plan focused on education, employment, health, and housing. Its achievements include brownfield revitalization and developing a holistic set of metrics to benchmark economic progress.
- Infrastructure Investment – Southern Minnesota: For years, a short-line railroad tract lay in disrepair through five rural Minnesota counties. Forming a regional partnership, the Minnesota Valley Regional Rail Authority secured federal, state, and local funding to repair the tracks and provided a new, more efficient means for local farmers to move produce to market.
Download the full NaCo report here: NaCo Rural Development 2014