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October 15, 2015

Partners for Rural America Holds Annual Conference

Partners for Rural America (PRA), the national organization of State Rural Development Councils like Illinois Rural Partners, held its annual conference and business meeting August 16-19, 2015 in Staunton, Virginia.  The Council for Rural Virginia hosted the meeting.

Council representatives from around the country including Jerry Townsend of Illinois Rural Partners participated in several panel discussions on community assessments, holding rural summits and conferences, transfer of wealth and other topics.  In addition, USDA Deputy Under Secretary Lillian Salerno spoke about USDA initiatives, priorities and collaboration with State Councils to jointly carry out the authorities and spirit of the Farm Bill which gives State Councils its mandate.  Members of the Council for Rural Virginia discussed agriculture, technology, advanced manufacturing and cultural assets initiatives and successes.  Attendees spent an entire day visiting and learning about many of these initiatives in the Shenandoah Valley.  David Terrell discussed the many Rural Policy Research Institute innovative, collaborative and system based approaches to rural issues many of which State Councils are involved with. 

Officers elected for the 2015-2016 year were:  Board Chair – Jerry Townsend, Illinois Rural Partners; Vice Chair – Christy Morton, Council for Rural Virginia; Secretary – Charlotte Davis, Rural Maryland Council and Treasurer – Paul Costello, Vermont Council on Rural Development.

Illinois Rural Partners is a member supported forum that links individuals, the private sector, the nonprofit community and representatives of the Federal, State and local government with a focus on net working, learning and problem solving.  More information is available at www.ruralpartners.org

December 3, 2014
Contact: Paul Costello | Phone: (802) 223-6091, info@vtrural.org

New Report Highlights Potential for Vermont’s Digital Economy

MONTPELIER, VT –Bridging the digital divide and expanding the innovative use of online tools will remain critical for Vermont if it wants to continue building resilience into our communities, keep businesses competitive, and assure that community organizations work more effectively throughout the state. That is the conclusion of “Vermont’s Digital Stories”, a new report highlighting some of the successes that were launched by the Vermont Council on Rural Development’s (VCRD) two-year Vermont Digital Economy Project. The examples show the potential that technology offers across many sectors and they can be adapted to expand opportunities across the Green Mountain state.
Digital tools are already making a big difference in Vermont and have enormous potential for its future vitality and prosperity. That is the clear message from “Vermont’s Digital Stories”, a new report highlighting some of the successes that were launched by the Vermont Council on Rural Development’s (VCRD) two-year Vermont Digital Economy Project. The examples show the promise that technology offers across many sectors and they can be adapted to expand opportunities across the Green Mountain state.

Through major support by the US Commerce Department’s Economic Development Administration, VCRD provided 50 of Vermont’s most flood-damaged towns with services that helped speed recovery, spur economic development and job growth, and improve community disaster resilience. The project increased digital literacy and online workforce training, added 26 Wi‐Fi and other public access points, brought Front Porch Forum and community calendars to every Vermont town, created 25 new town websites, and provided customized training for hundreds of small businesses and nonprofit organizations.

“This project has shown the value of digital tools to support our cornerstone values such as community, mutual aid, creative entrepreneurism, farm and forest enterprises, and strong downtowns,” explains VCRD Executive Director Paul Costello.

The stories include:

  • How Bethel brought together the downtown business association, the municipal government, and the local school system to create a Wi-Fi zone that extends through much of the riverfront downtown of this flood-impacted small community. Because Wi-Fi operates under low power, it can be a key component for communication in a post-disaster situation helping keep everyone informed and easing coordination of services.
  • A look at how Waterbury’s new Wi-Fi zone strengthens local business by offering its downtown groups a new way to reach visitors and residents alike to let them know about special events and every day shopping options.
  • The impact of adding Front Porch Forum to every town in Vermont. Neighbors in these free local forums have shared hundreds of thousands of postings regarding all sorts of topics including lost pets, car break-ins, plumber recommendations, school budgets, block parties, and road closings. One post even led to a new community garden for over a dozen Montpelier residents.
  • How the co-founder of an organic, draft-animal powered family farm is using his iPad and a mobile app to help map his daily logging plan and develop a cooperative network to meet the surging demand for sustainably harvested logs.
  • How the newly launched Bridport Creamery developed its e-commerce website to assure its artisan cheeses can reach the niche market it has targeted.
  • How the Black River Historical Society in Ludlow boosted donations and auction bids by adapting an app that allowed its iPad to process credit cards at remote events.
  • A unique partnership between the Community College of Vermont and the State Department of Libraries that placed paid college students in 24 local libraries as an ongoing resource to help bridge the digital divide. More than 1,000 Vermonters, including seniors and the unemployed, received one-on-one digital skills training through the program.

“These stories are shining examples of how Vermont is advancing the culture of digital economic development,” says Costello. “The future is viral.”

Throughout the project, VCRD worked closely with IBM, the Snelling Center for Government, the Vermont Department of Libraries, the Vermont Small Business Development Center, Microsoft, Front Porch Forum, and the Vermont State Colleges.

To learn more, visit vtrural.org or contact VCRD at 802-223-6091 or by email at info@vtrural.org.

October 28, 2014
Contact: Paul Costello, VCRD Executive Director | 223-5763, pcostello@vtrural.org

New Initiative to Advance Vermont’s “Climate Economy”

Can Vermont be a national leader in incubating small businesses that answer climate change?  The Vermont Council on Rural Development (VCRD) thinks so.
The organization is announcing a new initiative designed to rally business, policy and community leadership to advance policies and investments to grow jobs and nurture innovative business development in sectors ranging from clean energy to recycling, transportation systems, and thermal efficiency.  

To begin this effort, the Council is planning for a February 18th Summit at Vermont Technical College on “Creating Prosperity & Opportunity Confronting Climate Change.”  The conference is built on the premise that, “Confronting climate change through innovative economic development can be a competitive strategy, one that will build national reputation, create jobs, and attract youth and entrepreneurism to the states that lead.” Attendees will be asked:  “Where is the economic opportunity for sector and cluster development in Vermont that can be a foundation for future prosperity? What practical actions or policy directions make most sense for us to advance today?”
The ideas and priorities of conference participants will be starting points for the Vermont Climate Change Economy Council to be founded at the event.  This working group will spend 2015 developing a framework of policy actions and investment strategies to advance the Vermont economy.

VCRD cites one of the key goals in Vermont’s Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy as a starting point; the goal that, “Vermont is a haven for businesses leading the world in adapting to, mitigating and reversing the effects of climate change.”  The new Vermont Climate Economy Council will frame a platform of practical action designed to help make this so.

The Vermont Council on Rural Development is a non-profit organization charged by the federal farm bill to act as a neutral convener at both the local and policy level supporting the progress of Vermont communities.  VCRD will provide support to the work of the VT Climate Economy Council, and then help promote the platform of action that comes from its deliberations.

Past VCRD policy efforts have supported progress in issues ranging from wood products to downtown revitalization, rural energy development, the digital economy, and Vermont’s working landscape.  VCRD produced the most extensive evaluation of Vermont values and priorities in a generation when it led the Council on the Future of Vermont in 2009. According to VCRD director Paul Costello, “For us, this effort will unite what we see at the community level, where so many are working to attract and retain creative youth and incubate new small businesses, and at the state level, where there is a strategic opportunity to differentiate Vermont in the national marketplace.” 

VCRD points to Vermont’s assets for leadership in the climate change mitigation sector:  An aggressive state energy plan, higher education expertise, transportation and thermal efficiency know how, working groups like the Vermont Energy Action Network, innovative utilities--from Green Mountain Power and VELCO to independent members of the Vermont Public Power Supply Association, the nation-leading Efficiency Vermont program, and advanced work being done on energy development and resource renewal, recovery and recycling in the private sector. 

According to Costello, “With these and so many other resources, and especially with the leadership of Vermont’s business innovators, Vermont has a powerful story to tell, one that can celebrate and reinforce current efforts while growing a new generation of creative businesses that want to be at the center of this economic movement and also want a high quality of life.  The Vermont brand, and all the state stands for, gives us an edge, if we will seize it.”

For more information on VCRD and the conference, go to www.vtrural.org or like VCRD at https://www.facebook.com/VtCRD.




Wyoming Main Street offers best practices workshop

The Wyoming Rural Development Council/Wyoming Main Street office is offering their annual mobile best practices workshop in conjunction with the 2013 National Main Streets Conference. This event is a precursor to the national conference and provides those interested or already involved in downtown revitalization an opportunity to learn how Main Street™ communities around the country have made their downtowns what they are today.
This year’s workshop will take over 80 people to communities in Louisiana and Mississippi to see how the Main Street programs in these communities have applied the Main Street Four-Point Approach™. The group will be learning about the relationships built through the programs and also their “wins.” Specific workshop highlights include a downtown living, getting non-profits involved in major events, building a strong business mix in downtowns and how to market that mix, and utilization of Community Development Block Grants for a façade enhancement program.

For more information on the Main Street movement, visit www.mainstreet.org.


Rural “YES” Young Entrepreneur Summit

Iowa Rural Development Council along with the U.S. Small Business Administration, USDA Rural Development, Iowa State University and two dozen partners are co-hosting a Rural “YES” Young Entrepreneur Summit on Nov. 9. The Summit will be in the Scheman Building at the Iowa State Center, Ames from 4:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

The event is free to participating or prospective entrepreneurs. Small Business Administration Deputy Administrator Marie Johns and USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Rural Development Doug O’Brien will share their perspectives and success stories from around the country.  Governor Terry Branstad and Lt. Governor Kim Reynolds will share their perspectives on state initiatives to enhance opportunities for successful rural Entrepreneurs in Iowa. A panel of young rural entrepreneurs moderated by Iowa small business person of the year for 2010, Rob Hach of Anemometry Specialists includes:

Young and emerging entrepreneurs at Rural YES will:

  • Hear success stories from other rural entrepreneurs,
  • Listen to and share ideas for improving opportunities for rural entrepreneur success,
  • Connect with other rural entrepreneurs and support networks.
  • Shape ideas for a Rural YES Findings Report and future rural entrepreneur networking communications.

A free trade show/networking reception featuring local Iowa foods follows the program.

To participate, please register for Rural YES at the following website:

Rural YES recognizes outstanding young entrepreneurs and shares their success stories from across rural America to inspire others to participate in creating a rural entrepreneurial cultural. Organizers believe this provides greater opportunity for successful enterprise development and support in the future.

This event will also be live streamed on the White House website at www.whitehouse.gov

For More Information, Contact:

  • Dr. Mark Edelman, CVC-ISU                Phone: 515-294-6144            medelman@iastate.edu
  • Joe Folsom, District Director SBA       Phone: 515-284-4026           joseph.folsom@sba.gov
  • Bill Menner, State Director, USDA RD                                                 bill.menner@ia.usda.gov
  • Heather Honkomp, USDA RD              Phone: 515-284-4663           heather.honkomp@ia.usda.gov



Illinois Rural Partners was a gold level sponsor of the recent Economic Development Downstate Summit “Creating a Common Voice” which attracted more than 200 economic developers, legislators and community leaders.  The conference, held in Effingham, was a day of education, exploration, and brainstorming and focused on creating a common voice on economic development issues.

Several Rural Partners board members were presenters on topics such as the results of the Rural Life Poll partially funded by Rural Partners, current economic trends, Tax Increment Financing districts, Enterprise Zones and development of a common business development brand for downstate Illinois to build on the many positive activities going on in rural communities all over the state.  The positive discussion at the conference gives encouragement that the downstate bipartisan legislative caucus will be revitalized.

Conference planners are now studying the comments from the networking sessions and conference evaluation, developing communication pieces to be sent to the legislators and establishing task forces to work on economic development issues.

Rural Partners is a member driven forum that links individuals, businesses, organizations and communities with private and public resources to maximize the potential of rural Illinois.  Click here for more information. 


Wisconsin Small Town Forums

The University of Wisconsin - Extension, Wisconsin Rural Partners, Wisconsin Downtown Action Council and Wisconsin Main Street are excited to present two regional Small Town Forums on July 13 in Shullsburg and July 14 in Tigerton.

Everyone is invited, but this workshop was developed to create a dialog among small town leaders with populations of 1,500 or less. The format of the workshop is structured to allow participants to learn from each other through case studies, roundtables and discussion groups.

The cost of the workshop is $10 and registrations are due by July 7, 2010. A copy of the brochure that includes agendas for each site and how to register can be found at http://commerce.wi.gov/cd/docs/cd-bdd-forum.pdf

For more information about the Small Town Forums, please contact Catherine Dunlap with Wisconsin Main Street at catherine.dunlap@wisconsin.gov or at 608-267-3855


Maine Rural Partners

The Community-Based Renewable Energy Act

Signed into law on June 9, 2009, the Community‐Based Renewable Energy Act promotes the
development of locally‐owned renewable energy.  The Act connects three critical policy
objectives—environmental security, economic development and energy independence.

This new law defines community renewable energy to be renewable energy produced by an enterprise that is primarily owned by local entities in the state of Maine.  It establishes a preference for the state to buy this energy whenever it is economically feasible to do so, and creates a standard “green power” option in addition to the standard offer—thereby providing consumers with that same purchasing opportunity.  The Act also creates a pilot program to directly incentivize community renewable energy generation.

Why is Community Renewable Energy So Important?

According to the Office of Energy Independence and Security, Maine sends nearly $6.8 billion to out-of-state energy providers every year.  That means nearly $6000 per person leaves Maine’s economy every year to keep our lights on and our cars rolling.

Yet Maine is blessed with vast natural renewable energy resources.  Regardless of who owns the project, development of these resources can help us keep more of that money in our local economy, helping to create jobs and build wealth in our communities instead of exporting that wealth elsewhere.

These benefits are far greater still when our energy generation facilities are owned by local people.  Your neighbors have a vested interest in the health and well-being of their community, because they too have to live with the facilities they build and the potential complaints of their neighbors.

Equally important is the economic gain that comes from local ownership.  Studies investigating this issue with wind power development have demonstrated that local ownership doubles or even triples the host community’s economic gains from any given project.

Community renewable energy cannot realistically supply all Maine’s energy needs, but that is no reason not to favor local ownership of a project whenever the will and resources are available within our state.  This legislation is our state’s way of expressing that preference while stimulating our critically needed transition to secure, planet‐friendly energy sources.

Direct Incentives Pilot Program

The Act also creates a pilot program to provide a choice of direct incentives to the developers of community renewable energy projects, including individuals with small projects that can sell directly into their grid to supply their neighbors with clean, home‐grown energy.  To take advantage of these incentives, developers of larger projects must show local support for their project if it exceeds 1 MW of generating capacity by obtaining a resolution of support from the relevant municipal government or native tribe.  This requirement will ensure that a community-based facility is indeed welcomed in the local community. 

In return, participating developers may choose to establish a 20-year long-term purchasing contract to provide power to the standard offer pool, providing the developers with a stable rate of return on their investment.  Alternatively, developers can claim a 50% bonus on their renewable energy certificates when applied to Maine’s portfolio standard requirement.

During the pilot, a number of restrictions will protect ratepayers.  Most importantly, the program is initially limited to 50 MW of generating capacity, and there will be additional limits for each standard offer service territory.  There is also a per-project cap of 10 MW. 
Long-term contracts with a capacity above 1 MW will be competitively bid, and no contract can pay more than a 10¢ per kWh annual average.  That price is less than the highest price Maine consumers have paid recently.

Thanks to hard work and ultimately unanimous support from the Utilities and Energy Committee, the Community-Based Renewable Energy Act was enacted and signed into law.  Key contributors included members of the Mid‐Coast Green Collaborative, Community Energy Partners, Maine Rural Partners, Ed Holt & Associates, the Natural Resources Council of Maine, the Office of Public Advocate, the Public Utilities Commission, Office of Energy
Independence & Security, Central Maine Power Company, legislative analyst Lucia Nixon and
the following legislators:  Rep Bruce MacDonald, Rep Herb Adams, Rep Ken Fletcher, Rep
David van Wie, Rep Stacey Fitts, Rep Michael Thibodeau and Senator Barry Hobbins.

Crafters of the legislation gratefully acknowledge helpful national advice provided by
Windustry, Climate Solutions, the Institute for Local Self‐Reliance, the Minnesota Dept. of
Commerce and American Corn Growers Federation, as well as the positive attitude of the
Maine Public Utilities Commission, which will carry the load in implementing this legislation.


Council on the Future of Vermont

The Council on the Future of Vermont is a two year project of the Vermont Council on Rural Development. From 2007 to 2009, the Council learned from Vermonters about their hopes, aspirations and visions for the future of the state.