Unemployment rates are the No. 1 concern for American citizens. The general economy, dissatisfaction with the government, and poor health care follow close behind, as cited in a 2014 Gallup poll. Rural communities in particular suffer from uncertainty about the economy.
Rural counties and communities can often deal with significant economic transitions and reduce uncertainty when they work together as a region while engaging multiple stakeholders, said Scott Tate, a former community viability Extension specialist. However, most rural areas lack such networks.
“So much economic activity happens across county lines, but some regions don’t have a long history of working together. Or, if they do, they don’t always bring the necessary partners to the table. Stronger Economies Together provides an opportunity to map regions, think about who the stakeholders are, and invite new people to the conversation,” said Tate.
Funded by the USDA, the SET program provided two regional teams with tools, training, and technical expertise. Diverse teams of regional stakeholders participated in the 12- to 18-month program, which strengthened the collaborative capacity and economic development knowledge of participants, culminating in a high-quality economic plan for the regions. Community viability specialists from Extension and personnel from partner organizations engaged participants in teambuilding activities and the use of up-to-date data and analytical tools.
Virginia Cooperative Extension and its partners — including the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development, Virginia Economic Development Partnership, Virginia Tourism Corporation, and USDA Rural Development in Virginia — implemented the program in two Virginia regions: the Northern Neck-Chesapeake Bay area and a section of Southside Virginia.
The Northern Neck-Chesapeake Bay Region Partnership secured implementation funding, established a small business incubator, and developed one of SET’s nationally recognized regional economic plans.
Virginia’s Growth Alliance, which comprises six counties and one city in Southside, established a new economic development partnership, crafted a regional entrepreneurship plan, and better identified regional economic clusters.
In both areas, the program successfully built the foundation for job creation, forged new partnerships, and encouraged local government officials to continue working together across municipal boundaries. Both regions participated in the SET national program assessment in September 2014.
“We are very concerned statewide with making sure that we pursue economic development opportunities like Stronger Economies Together to grow the economy in Virginia,” Tate said.