Rural Communities

Rural communities are the backbone of the U.S. economy. While urban centers get most of the media attention, small towns and rural areas around the state are the engine that fuels the country’s economic vitality and is responsible for the vast majority of job growth. Following are resources that communities can use to spur discussion, ideation and most of all, action.


Rural Prosperity Through the Arts and Creative Sector: A Rural Action Guide for Governors and States – National Governors Association, January 2019

Rural America at a Glance – This report highlights recent social and economic conditions in rural America, focusing on county-level trends in population, employment, poverty, and aging.

Promising Practices for Increasing Access to Transportation in Rural Communities – Walsh Center for Rural Health Analysis

Rural Transportation Toolkit

Rural Community Health Toolkit

Rural Communities, Older People, and the Opioid Crisis: An Introduction for Funders – Grantmakers in Aging

New Frontiers for Funding: An Introduction to Grantmaking in Rural Aging – Grantmakers in Aging

Building Rural Assets – The Rural Development and Community Foundations Initiative

The Toolkit for Business Districts to Work with Local Artists – International Downtown Association

State Of Main Street Annual Report

ReBuilding Downtown: A Guidebook for Revitalization by Smart Growth America

The Greenest Building: Quantifying the Environmental Value of Building Reuse by Preservation Green Lab

Welcome Back to Downtown: A Guide to Revitalizing Pennsylvania’s Small Downtowns by the Center for Rural Pennsylvania

Bringing Back Main Street: A Guide to Downtown Revitalization for Local Governments by the Houston-Galveston Area Local Development Corporation


How Recreation Boosts the Economy

Prettier Cities Are Better at Attracting Jobs and New Residents

Rural America Might Miss Out on ‘Opportunity Zones’

An Age-Friendly Rural America

What is a Rural Community? The Answer Isn’t Always Easy

Small Towns are Dying, But Not Here

Online Portal Seeks to Decrease Rural Health ‘Philanthropy’ Gap

Go For the Vacation; Stay for the Worker Subsidy

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Small Towns

Unleash the Untapped Talent of Rural Entrepreneurs

Rural Philanthropy Toolkit

The Hard Truths of Dismissing Rural Philanthropy

Rural Investments Could Be the Next Big Opportunity

Countering the Geography of Discontent: Strategies for Left Behind Places

The Hard Truths of Trying to Save the Rural Economy

Three Serious Myths About Rural Entrepreneurship

Creating A String of Tech Hubs Across Rural America

Helping Small Towns Get Funding For Remote Workplaces

The Remote Work Explosion that Will Transform Rural America

Rural renaissance and Digital Parity

Philanthropic Funding for Equity cant Exclude Rural

Rise in Rural Jobs but Gap with Metro Widens 

Community-Driven Solutions for Smaller Cities and Towns

Recreation is a bigger share of Economy

How Small Town Entrepreneurs Can Use Location to Their Advantage

Employee Ownership Pays Dividends in Rural Areas

Tech Hubs in Rural America

Using Telehealth to Improve Broadband

How To Market a Small Town

Kitsap County Race to Health Program

Regional Initiatives In Dental Education (RIDE)

How A Farm Town Emerged as a Major Food Distribution 

Rural Upbringing Raises Kids Future Earnings

Top 10 Rural Health Priorities and Best Practices 2020 

Rural Communities Must Empower Youth

Microsoft Outlines Plans To Close Rural Broadband Gap

Key Studies: Why Local Matters

10 Reasons Why Rural Economic Development is Hard To Do

Broadband ‘Vouchers’ Won’t Help Rural America Connect 

6 charts that illustrate the divide between rural and urban America 

The economic plan that could help rural America

Why rural matters: The condition of rural education in the 50 states

Why Walkable Streets Are More Economically Productive

The Hard Truths of Trying to Save the Rural Economy

The Parking Problem That Wasn’t

What Does A Walkable Street Look Like

10 Questions to Ask Someone Running for Local Office

Laundromat Anchors a Small Town

15 Awesome Movies about Preservation

Creative Place Making Toolkit for Business Districts

The Town that Beat WalMart is Back on the Map

How One Massachusetts Downtown Bounced Back

A Healthy Downtown is a Key to A Strong Community

Adaptive Reuse Should be the Default

Older, Smaller, Better: Measuring How the Character of Buildings and Blocks Influences Urban Vitality

What Makes a Good Main Street Work

Five Keys to Downtown Success

Downtown Revitalization: Cities Search for Solutions

12 strategies that will transform your city’s downtown

10 Small Cities with Urban Amenities That Most Big Cities Lack



Rural Innovation Initiative is a new project will work to bridge the opportunity gap in rural America by helping communities build the capacity to create resilient, innovation-based jobs. Those communities will receive intensive, on-site technical assistance as they execute an innovation hub strategy: an economic development model that works to educate and train local residents in digital skills, employ them in new economy jobs, and empower them to launch the startups that will drive their digital economy.

Youth Build is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization that has built a robust network of 260 urban and rural YouthBuild programs in 44 states. They are sponsored and managed by local nonprofits, community colleges, and public agencies.. At YouthBuild programs in the United States and across the globe, low-income young people learn construction skills through building affordable housing for homeless and low-income people in their neighborhoods and other community assets such as schools, playgrounds, and community centers. For unemployed young people who left high school without a diploma, YouthBuild is an opportunity to reclaim their educations, gain the skills they need for employment, and become leaders in their communities.

The Rural Development Innovation Center provides information about the Rural Development Innovation Center, which features resources and best practices for rural communities seeking to improve quality of life through job creation, infrastructure improvements, community partnerships, and more.

The Center on Rural Innovation (CORI) is an impact investing social enterprise that focuses on rural communities in economic distress; communities with depreciated real estate values, a decline of working-age families, and falling wages. They work with towns that have the most immediate potential for success, due to a proximity to an institution of higher education, or a downtown district with under-used historic buildings ready for new life. They use a combination of unique data analytics and our extensive network of rural community leaders to identify our first engagements. Collaborating with community leaders, we plan and execute a downtown innovation hub using local, regional and national partnerships, and proven best practices for fostering resilient prosperity in rural economies.

The Orton Family Foundations Community Heart and Soul program is focused on building stronger, healthier, and more economically vibrant small cities and towns across America. Founded in 1995, the foundation devoted more than a decade to working with small towns to develop a community development model that empowers residents to shape the future of their communities. Community Heart & Soul® projects are underway across the country creating positive change that is resident-driven, recognizes the value in the unique character of each place, and the deep emotional connection of the people who live there.

Local Futures mission is to protect and renew ecological and social well being by promoting a systemic shift away from economic globalization towards localization. Through its “education for action” programs, Local Futures develops innovative models and tools to catalyze collaboration for strategic change at the community and international level.

Emsi is a for profit consulting group using labor market data to connect and inform people, education, and business. They provide actionable data and consulting to help understand and communicate your economic and workforce strengths, respond to business inquiries, benchmark your region against your peers, and attract and retain skilled talent.

The Rural Schools Collaborative strengthens the bonds between rural schools and communities through place-based engagement, rural philanthropy, and developing teacher-leaders.

The mission of LOCUS Impact Investing is to empower place-focused foundations to invest their capital locally to build prosperous, vibrant communitiesLOCUS is the “on ramp” for foundations and donors who want to unlock their philanthropic capital. LOCUS provides a roadmap for foundations interested in building their capacity for direct impact investing and more.

The mission of the Institute for Local Self Reliance is to provide innovative strategies, working models and timely information to support environmentally sound and equitable community development. To this end, ILSR works with citizens, activists, policymakers and entrepreneurs to design systems, policies and enterprises that meet local or regional needs.

The  Rural Resources Community Action has helped residents of Northeastern Washington State help themselves through education, resources and support.  They offer real hope to children, seniors and families by working to create a stronger and more stable community for Ferry, Lincoln, Pend Oreille, Whitman and Stevens Counties. Their Community Resource Guide contains local information on housing, jobs, transportation and lots of other services.

The Rural Entrepreneurship Initiative (REI) is a program of the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF). The Initiative helps rural entrepreneurs overcome the hurdles they face. REI aims to provide rural entrepreneurs with world-class business training, networks and resources to help them succeed. More than 70 businesses in 26 states have been helped through REI projects

The Rural Development Innovation Group (Aspen Institute) is made up of rural development practitioners, intermediaries and others who have been deeply involved in advancing rural community and economic development. The Group’s principal goals are to accelerate the adoption, adaptation and impact of innovative rural development strategies and convene key innovators to increase leadership, learning and dissemination to the field. 

The Rural Information Center (RIC) assists rural communities by providing information and referral services to local, tribal, state, and federal government officials; community organizations; libraries; businesses; and citizens working to maintain the vitality of America’s rural areas. RIC provides information and tools to support our nation’s rural communities.

The National Rural Health Resource Center is a nonprofit organization dedicated to sustaining and improving health care in rural communities. The Center provides technical assistance, information, tools and resources for the improvement of rural health care. It serves as a national rural health knowledge center and strives to build state and local capacity.

The Rural Voices for Conservation Coalition promotes practical, equitable and sustainable solutions that are grounded in the experiences of rural community members, workers, and businesses.  Our approach is to strengthen and empower the voices of rural leaders on issues such as collaborative all-lands stewardship, renewable energy, climate change, and local workforce development. By bringing rural leaders together to share their work, we serve as a vital peer learning and capacity building network that accelerates the practice of land stewardship and aligned economic development. 

Rural Development Initiatives, Inc. is a private, nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization based in Eugene, Oregon. RDI supports rural communities as they work through challenging economic conditions. RDI’s nationally recognized programs and services help communities help themselves with effective and results-oriented training and resources necessary for individuals living in rural communities to build and sustain a better future in their communities. Our work is based upon our genuine commitment to help rural people and communities build rural capacity through Leadership Development programs and strengthen Rural Economic Vitality through moving capacity into action.

Rural Community Assistance Partnership is part of a much larger group of many entities that are concerned about and work on challenges facing rural America. These include government agencies at the federal, state, regional and local levels that provide funding and operate a wide range of programs from housing to job creation. This group also includes many private organizations and associations that address an array of issues as well.

The Rural Policy Research Institute (RUPRI) provides unbiased analysis and information on the challenges, needs, and opportunities facing rural America. RUPRI’s aim is to spur public dialog and help policymakers understand the rural impacts of public policies and programs.

The Center for Rural Affairs mission 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.

The Center for Rural Entrepreneurship helps rural communities leaders build a prosperous future by supporting and empowering business, social and civic entrepreneurs. With our roots and hearts in rural America, we help communities of all sizes and interests by bringing empowering research together with effective community engagement to advance community-driven strategies for prosperity.

Rural LISC provides a wide range of services including training, technical assistance, information, and financial support to help rural community developers address the problems rural communities face. Rural LISC staff collaborates with CDC’s to help identify priorities and challenges, delivering the most appropriate support to meet local needs.

The Rural Health Information Hub, formerly the Rural Assistance Center, is funded by the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy to be a national clearinghouse on rural health issues. The RHIhub is your guide to improving health for rural residents—we provide access to current and reliable resources and tools to help you learn about rural health needs and work to address them.

NeighborWorks America creates opportunities for people to live in affordable homes, improve their lives and strengthen their communities.

Agracel’s mission is to be the premier provider of development services to Agurb® communities, facilitating and retaining manufacturing and hi-tech jobs, resulting in a strong portfolio of buildings, thus creating long-term value for our stakeholders. Founded by Jack Shultz, author of BoomTown USA, Agricel has developed over 14 million square feet of industrial space in 20 states.

The Alliance for Rural Impact is a nonprofit organization serving rural and tribal communities across America.  We are a collective partnership of technical assistance experts focused on community equity for rural and tribal regions. Our team is solutions-focused and adept in financial stabilization and growth, strategic planning and analysis, capacity building and long-term implementation of priorities. Our ultimate goal is to bring about positive changes that result in community prosperity.

The Edward Lowe Foundation’s entrepreneurship initiatives are focused on second-stage companies — growth-oriented firms that have moved beyond  startup but haven’t yet reached maturity. Our peer learning, leadership education and strategic information programs are geared to help these companies continue growing. We also educate communities about the challenges second-stagers face and how to work with them.

Art of the Rural is a collaborative organization with a mission to help build the field of the rural arts, create new narratives on rural culture and community, and contribute to the emerging rural arts and culture movement. We work online and on the ground through interdisciplinary and cross-sector partnerships to advocate for engaged conversation and policy that transcends imposed boundaries and articulates the shared reality of rural and urban America.

The Rural Gateway is an information clearinghouse providing technical assistance, training workshops, and peer learning and resource sharing to support rural housing and economic development.

Smart Growth America helps communities plan for smarter, strategic growth as an investment for their future. We teach local leaders about the technical aspects of smart growth development, and provide customized advice on how communities can use smart growth strategies to their advantage.

The Alliance for Rural Impact is a nonprofit organization serving rural and tribal communities across America.  They are a collective partnership of technical assistance experts focused on community equity for rural and tribal regions.

WealthWorks is a 21st-century approach to local and regional economic development WealthWorks brings together and connects a community’s assets to meet market demand in ways that build livelihoods that last. WealthWorks aims to advance a region’s overall prosperity and self-reliance, strengthen existing and emerging sectors, and increase jobs and incomes for lower-income residents and firms — all at the same time.

The Business Alliance for Local Living Economies, represents thousands of communities and conveners, entrepreneurs, investors and funders. Their mission is to create local economies that work for all by equipping people with the tools and connections needed to prioritize equity and make well-being possible.

The American Independent Business Association (AMIBA) is a 501c3 non-profit organization dedicated to helping communities become more self-supporting and resilient through fostering a culture that values and supports independent business and local entrepreneurs. We do this by helping communities launch and successfully operate an Independent Business Alliance® (IBA), as well as providing extensive support, templates and resources for chambers, downtown organizations, local governments, independent trade associations and other entities working to help their local independent businesses thrive.



The Alliance for Lawyers and Rural America was conceived by group lawyers who lamented the lack of national-level unification and dialogue at the intersection of law and rurality. The Alliance for Lawyers and Rural America aims to bring greater awareness, attention, energy, and momentum to the efforts of rural people, community leaders, and any other individuals or organizations working at or near the intersection of law and rurality

The Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI) believes in order to ensure a safe, adequate supply of healthy food, they must protect farm workers and encourage environmentally sound farming. Their mission is to cultivate markets, policies, and communities that support thriving, socially just, and environmentally sound family farms.

The Center on Rural Innovation is an impact investing social enterprise. Their focus is on rural communities in economic distress; communities with depreciated real estate values, a decline of working-age families, and falling wages. Collaborating with community leaders, they plan and execute a downtown innovation hub using local, regional and national partnerships, and proven best practices for fostering resilient prosperity in rural economies.

The Association for Rural & Small Libraries provides resources and support that empower those in small and rural libraries to deliver excellent service for their communities.

The National Rural Economic Developers Association is a member organization dedicated to the advancement of rural economic development through providing education and networking opportunities.

The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) is an alliance of grassroots organizations that advocates for federal policy reform to advance the sustainability of agriculture, food systems, natural resources, and rural communities.

The International Economic Development Council (IEDC) is a non-profit, non-partisan membership organization serving economic developers. With more than 5,000 members, IEDC is the largest organization of its kind. Economic developers promote economic well-being and quality of life for their communities, by creating, retaining and expanding jobs that facilitate growth, enhance wealth and provide a stable tax base. From public to private, rural to urban and local to international, IEDC’s members are engaged in the full range of economic development experience.

The National Rural Assembly is a movement of people and organizations devoted to building a stronger, more vibrant rural America for children, families, and communities. Participants include more than 500 local, regional, and national organizations based in 47 states and the District of Columbia. The goal of the National Rural Assembly is to make the country stronger by improving the outlook for rural communities. The guiding principle is that an inclusive, prospering, and sustainable rural America improves prospects for us all.

The National Association of Development Organizations (NADO) provides advocacy, education, research, and training for the nation’s regional development organizations. The association and its members promote regional strategies, partnerships, and solutions to strengthen the economic competitiveness and quality of life across America’s local communities.

The National Community Development Association (NCDA) is a national nonprofit organization comprised of more than 400 local governments across the country that administer federally-supported community and economic development, housing and human service programs.  The Association provides timely, direct information and technical support to its members on federal housing and community development programs

The National Association for County and Economic Development was established to develop the technical capacity of county government practitioners that administer federally-funded affordable housing, community development, and economic development programs benefiting low- and moderate-income households.

The Local Initiatives Support Corporation, known as LISC, is one of the largest organizations supporting projects to revitalize communities and bring greater economic opportunity to residents. These include more affordable housing, better schools, safer streets, growing businesses and programs improving the financial stability of people.

The American Independent Business Association (AMIBA) is a 501c3 non-profit organization dedicated to helping communities become more self-supporting and resilient through fostering a culture that values and supports independent business and local entrepreneurs. We do this by helping communities launch and successfully operate an Independent Business Alliance® (IBA), as well as providing extensive support, templates and resources for chambers, downtown organizations, local governments, independent trade associations and other entities working to help their local independent businesses thrive.

The Center for Community Progress, founded in 2010, is a national nonprofit specifically dedicated to building a future in which vacant, abandoned, and deteriorated properties no longer exist. In all of their work, they seek to ensure that all communities have the policies, tools, and resources they need to support the effective, equitable reuse of vacant, abandoned, and deteriorated properties

Smart Growth America is about helping every town and city become a more economically prosperous, socially equitable, and environmentally sustainable place to live. This approach looks different for every community, but can help neighborhoods of any kind flourish, make towns and cities competitive in a 21st-century economy, and improve lives by improving neighborhoods

Destination Development Association is an organization that provides an array of resources for everyone charged with making the place they call home better. DDA membership includes dozens of “how-to” videos, handouts, sample ordinance, photographic example books, webinars, weekly video blogs, and more. Topics include place branding, downtown development & revitalization, tourism product development, economic development, and all things marketing.

Over the past 35 years, the National Main Street Center has led the development of a national network of over 2,000 historic downtowns and neighborhood commercial districts: Main Street America™. The people who make up Main Street America are passionate advocates, dedicated volunteers, influential stakeholders, and community organizers who work every day to turn the tide in their communities—catalyzing reinvestment, creating jobs, and fostering pride of place.

The Washington State Main Street Program has been helping communities revitalize the economy, appearance, and image of their downtown commercial districts using the successful Main Street Approach®. Washington’s designated Main Street Communities track and report important metrics throughout the year to measure the impact of the Main Street Approach in communities throughout the state.