Rural Development

Rural development is a process focused on the economy, communities and people of areas where demographics show a widely dispersed population. Economic and sustainable development is important in non-urbanized areas that typically have a decentralized workforce and are characterized by out-migration. Rural America is largely agricultural, rich in natural resources and uniquely diverse. Regional councils are key players in advancing rural development through innovative and comprehensive strategic planning and alliances with private, public and nonprofit entities.

Rural Development Policy Brief

Rural Development is supported at the federal level largely through the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) office of Rural Development (RD). The Farm Bill is  the law that outlines programs and investment within the USDA, and is crucial to supporting the nation’s rural communities, the overall health of the economy, and energy security. The Farm Bill expired in September 2012, and a temporary reauthorization was signed into law in January 2013. Currently the House and the Senate are working on a compromise long-term reauthorization proposal to reconcile each chamber’s versions of the bill. The Rural Development Title (Title VI) provides for important investment in rural communities, and achieving long-term reauthorization is critical to the health of rural economies. More information on Farm Bill reauthorization efforts is available HERE.

NARC Member Case Studies

  • Water and Waste Water Infrastructure Investments - Blue Grass Area Development District (BGADD), Lexington, KY: The City of Stanford received a USDA Rural Development loan to undertake a raw water line project. Due to numerical growth, both within the City of Stanford and in the large rural area that depends upon Stanford water service, the water demands upon the Stanford Water Commission have been increasing steadily in recent years.  This loan will allow the region to make extensive repairs to the dam and convey the water from the lake north to the Stanford water treatment plant on the city’s south side.
  • Land Conservation - Fresno Council of Governments, Fresno, CA: In March 2007, the California Partnership for the San Joaquin Board of Directors awarded the Fresno COG and its project partners $200,000 to create and implement a Farmland Conservation Model Program for Fresno County. The resulting Farmland Conservation Model Program will be applied to the remaining counties in the San Joaquin Valley. The goal of the program is to preserve agricultural lands for future generations, allow managed growth of urban areas, and educate others about the importance of agriculture.
  • Promoting Sustainable Agriculture - Flint Hills Regional Council, Council Grove, KS: The Flint Hills Frontiers Project finds new ways to make the community more vibrant. The Flint Hills is a unique asset to Kansas and northern Oklahoma which can be leveraged to help sustain the economic viability of its smaller towns and outlying agricultural lands. The future of farming and ranching in the Flint Hills Region is centered around the ideas of sustainable practices that preserve and improve the viability of the tallgrass prairie ecosystem and the quality of life of the farmers and ranchers. The Flint Hills model ordinances are developed based on regionally sensitive best practices to offer natural resource preservation, such as wetlands and riparian corridor setbacks. 

Rural Development Resources

NARC Resources

  • NARC Webinar on Economic and Policy Priorities in Rural America (October 2013): NARC hosted a webinar with Celinda Lake of Lake Research Partners and Brian Neinaber of The Tarrance Group to discuss the recently released study for the Center for Rural Affairs surveying rural voters in the Great Plains, Midwest and Southeast regarding the role of federal policy in creating economic opportunity for rural citizens and a future for their communities.

Federal Resources

U. S. Department of Agriculture

  • Office of Rural Development: This agency runs programs intended to improve the economy and quality of life in rural America. it administers non-farm financial programs for rural housing, community facilities, water and waste disposal, and rural businesses.
  • Business and Cooperative Programs: USDA Rural Development provides for business credit needs in under-served rural areas, often in partnership with private-sector lenders through loans and grants.

U.S. Department of Commerce

  • Economic Development Administration (EDA): The EDA provides grants to economically distressed communities to generate new employment, help retain existing jobs and stimulate industrial and commercial growth.

 Non-Profit Resources

  • Center for Rural Affairs (CFRA): The mission of the Center for Rural Affairs is to establish strong rural communities, social and economic justice, environmental stewardship, and genuine opportunity for all while engaging people in decisions that affect the quality of their lives and the future of their communities.
  • Campaign for a Renewed Rural Development (CRRD): NARC is a member of the CRRD, which is a diverse coalition of organizations that have a stake in the economic an community health of rural america. CRRD members represent most of the sectors which work each day to sustain and revitalize rural America and advocates for robust investment in and support of preserving the rural way of life.
  • League of Rural Voters: The League uses grassroots organizing and communications tools to connect with rural voters in pivotal Midwestern states, focusing on issues like economic development, Social Security, immigration, trade and farm policy, health care and education.
  • Partners for Rural America (PRA):PRA exists to support the efforts of its member State Rural Development Councils which are uniquely positioned to expand economic and social opportunities for America’s rural communities and their residents, and provide a collective voice for rural America.
  • Rural Community Assistance Partnership (RCAP): RCAP is a national service-delivery network that works toward increased capability of local leaders to address current and future needs. These outcomes support the economic development of whole communities

For more information contact Joanna Turner at or 202.986.1032 x216.

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