Summit Strategy Sessions Offer Useful Insights – Potential of Rural Communities

Day two of the SJF Summit on the New Green Economy offered participants the chance to have a facilitated conversation about challenges and opportunities in the new green economy.  Sessions were held on issues that entrepreneurs face, the needs of rural and urban communities for economic development, and issues unique to the Triangle region of North Carolina.  We’ve picked out and posted to this blog some of the most interesting and useful insights from these sessions and paraphrased or quoted the participants.    Please feel free to leave your own comments or suggestions!


Here’s a thoughtful take-away from the SJF Summit strategy session on rural economic development: the glass is half full, not half empty.  In terms of green jobs potential, rural communities have great bioenergy and other assets, and are rich in natural capital.  However, new strategies for marketing and corporate development are needed so that private money, including venture capital and angels, can effectively reach small-or-medium-sized businesses in rural economies.

The Summit strategists concluded that rural communities may have missed the Internet explosion, but they don’t need to – and shouldn’t – miss the ‘green’ explosion.  How can these communities get in the game?

•    Increase access to capital.  One reason interest and enthusiasm from investors is lacking is because the capital needs are smaller in rural areas than elsewhere. One potential area of interest to investors could be community infrastructure.
•    Develop workforce training in new skills related to new green industries
•    Develop low-tech employment opportunities in green industries for entry-level employees
•    Recognize rural and urban needs are different!  Urban strategies may not work in rural communities.

Rural communities have big potential to develop their natural capital assets. One attendee noted that Latin American countries are beginning to protect their forests rather than cutting down the trees and are then using carbon credits to trade in the European market. U.S rural communities now have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to respond to the interest of the energy industry in biomass production by exploiting their bioenergy assets.

The lack of a trained workforce and matched skill sets are two of the biggest hurdles for rural communities. There may be lessons to learn here from urban communities, which use empowerment strategies to build capacity through leadership.  The best organizations are market-based networks, like farmers’ cooperatives, or are organized around a sector (energy products, forestry products) to serve large market.

Words of wisdom: to be successful, the regions themselves need to organize to develop an infrastructure.  One key need is on-the-ground leadership that’s sustained over time.