October 2017

Rural Counts: 10 Strategies for Rural North Carolina's Future is a guide map that outlines the rural economic development imperatives that should guide our action today and be the measure of our success going forward.

We kicked off the Rural Counts program by spending the past six months on the road, visiting rural communities from Murphy to Nags Head, to hear from you what within these strategies should be top priorities for the Rural Center going forward.

We are only 40 counties into our 80 county tour, but in all of the counties we have visited, three issues consistently rise to the top:

1) Broadband
2) Health Care
3) Entrepreneurship

We are now focusing on identifying where we, together with you, can make some real progress in each of these areas. And we want to hear where you think we should start.

Please fill out this survey to tell us areas you care about, and what's happening in your local community that you think could be addressed by collaborative statewide efforts.

We'll use your feedback to identify key policy opportunities that could be taken up at the state or federal level.

And, don't worry! We'll make sure to loop back to you with what we're thinking, so you can let us know if the ideas we're exploring will actually work for you.

Complete the survey by Friday, November 10, and forward this email to others you know who care about our rural communities. We want to gather as many voices as possible to guide us in finding solutions for the biggest challenges facing rural NC.

 John Coggin
 Director of Advocacy

Rural Center President Meets with Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue

I was very pleased to join about 100 key rural stakeholders in meeting with USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue earlier this month. The opportunity was made possible by Larry Wooten and our good friends at North Carolina Farm Bureau. During the course of the luncheon event, we heard updates on the Plant Sciences Initiative at NC State University and the federal immigration and tax reform efforts on Capitol Hill. Secretary Perdue joined Larry Wooten, White House Agriculture Advisor Ray Starling, Lt. Governor Dan Forest, Commissioner of Agriculture Steve Troxler, and Senator Brent Jackson (R- Duplin Johnston Sampson) in addressing the gathering. Wooten moderated a lively question and answer session with Secretary Perdue fielding a broad range of questions from the audience, many of them coming directly from farmers.  

I had the opportunity to thank Secretary Perdue for the outstanding work of the USDA Rural Development team in North Carolina for being such outstanding and reliable partners to our rural communities. In FY 2017, North Carolina ranks first in the nation for deploying $1.5 billion in rural development grants and loans, with Tennessee coming in second at $1.2 billion. These resources assist our rural towns and counties, small businesses, and rural electric and telecommunications cooperatives in providing key services and jobs to our rural citizens.

Thank you, Secretary Perdue, for the time you spent on the ground in North Carolina last week, and thank you, Farm Bureau Team, for providing such a broad cross-section of rural leadership the opportunity to interact with their US Secretary of Agriculture.

Patrick Woodie
President, NC Rural Center

Register now for our 30th anniversary celebration

On  November 16-17, more than 400 rural citizens and supporters will gather at the Raleigh Marriott Crabtree Valley to take a deep dive into the topic of rural leadership and the importance of local leaders in helping rural communities chart their own course for the future.

Claiming our Future: Inspiring Leadership, Driving Change  is two days full of content and conversations focused on how communities can engage the next generation of rural leadership to build the foundation for a better and brighter tomorrow. 
Bestselling author, renowned chef, and television host  Vivian Howard  will deliver the keynote address at this year's Rural Assembly. Howard will share a personal story of her return home to rural North Carolina and her journey from a budding rural entrepreneur to television star. 
Visit the  2017 Rural Assembly website to learn more and register!


Read all about what's happening in Washington this fall in this month's Dispatches from DC.

Highlights include updates on:
  • Health Care
    • Affordable Care Act
    • Children's Health Insurance Program
    • Rural Hospitals
    • Opioid Crisis
    • Community Health Centers
  • Tax Reform
  • Hurricane Recovery Appropriations
  • Offshore Drilling 
Help lead the Rural Center's new rural church engagement program

The  NC Rural Center has received a five-year grant from  The Duke Endowment  to work with United Methodist churches in rural North Carolina to build more economically dynamic and socially inclusive communities.

The Faith in Rural Communities initiative will initially partner with 64 Methodist churches throughout the state to assess their congregational assets and opportunities for community engagement. A smaller subset of congregations will then receive in-depth coaching to develop local outreach projects that support community growth and nurture laity and pastoral leadership in rural communities.

A significant number of North Carolina's 80 rural counties are still struggling to recover from the Great Recession, with many facing compounding issues of aging populations, out-migration of youth, and worsening health outcomes.  North Carolina now has 54 rural counties with more than 30 percent of their population either in poverty or just above poverty incomes. From July 2010 to July 2016, 48 rural counties lost population.

But rural communities are rich in assets, and recent research suggests some young adults are likely to return to raise a family and be part of a tight-knit community. The key to attracting those individuals -- and keeping those who have stayed -- is engaged community institutions and visionary local leadership.

The Rural Center will work with the selected congregations to develop high-impact mission projects that benefit the economic health and social wellbeing of the local community, but also enhance congregational life within the churches and increase overall church vitality.

We are now seeking a program manager to lead this exciting five-year project. Interested in learning more or applying? Check out the job description, or contact Senior Fellow Jason Gray at jgray@ncruralcenter.org. Applications due October 27.

Making Sense of the Census: Using Census Data for Local Change
Register today for special training event on October 26

Public, nonprofit, philanthropic, and media organizations seeking to understand and better their communities are awash in data. These organizations are challenged to navigate a flood of facts and figures, determine the best ones to use, and communicate them effectively. The richest sources of community-level demographic, economic, and housing data are those prepared by the US Census Bureau. Despite their richness, census products are complex and full of concepts that differ markedly from popular understandings. Fortunately, these concepts are accessible to any curious person -- even someone with little prior exposure to statistics or quantitative methods. The key is having a good orientation, which is what this training course from South by North Strategies, Ltd. offers. 

This daylong course will prepare people working in any capacity within mission-driven organizations to use census data to guide local change. The course provides an introduction to essential census concepts and sources, along with hands-on opportunities to practice local applications. Special attention is given to the American Community Survey. Participants will learn about such topics as the following:
  • The history and structure of the census
  • The basic geographies used in census products
  • The core demographic variables tracked by the census
  • The key economic variables measured in the census
  • Tips for the effective communication of census data
2017 Clean Energy Conference: November 15
Register for NC Sustainable Energy Association's Event

Clean Energy Finance 2017 is your go-to  conference for gaining timely, priority insights into how the policy, finance, and market are changing with the detail you need to make well-timed decisions and connections for successful deal-making. North Carolina clean energy finance is undergoing significant and complex changes. Federal laws and regulations are being revisited for the first time in decades and North Carolina has recently revised a host of clean energy policies as well as created additional financing mechanisms. Over the next 6-24 months, regulatory rules will be established for emerging technologies to do business in North Carolina. This conference intends to explore the effect of these changes as well as provide outlook for the future of financing clean energy projects in North Carolina, which will continue to serve as a precedent for the Southeast region.
Program reports 2,000 new jobs, 319 new businesses, & over $200,000,000 in Investments in FY16-17

The NC Main Street and Rural Planning Center reports that its programs supported 2,000 new jobs, 319 new businesses, and more than $200 million in private investment for fiscal year 2016-2017.
These results are from the NC Main Street and Rural Planning Center's fiscal year reports for the 64 designated Main Street and the 23 designated Small Town Main Street communities active in the two programs. 
NC Main Street Program
Currently, designated Main Street communities range in population from 1,730 - 87,130. All were under 50,000 in population at the time of designation. These communities partner at the local level with a Main Street director, a board of directors, and a host of community volunteers. 
Since the inception of the program in 1980, North Carolina Main Street communities have exceeded more than $2,650,750,000 in downtown public and private investment, created over 22,000 jobs, and opened 5,410 businesses.  Main Street communities reported the following statistics from their 2016-17 work:  
  • $189,562,163 in downtown public and private investment
  • 1,804 new jobs
  • 281 new businesses
  • 235 building renovations
  • 322 façade improvements
  • 114,968 volunteer hours with a value of $2,643,122
"Main streets and downtowns serve as hubs for life and business in a community," said Secretary Tony Copeland. "The NC Main Street and Small Town Main Street programs support these areas by getting them what they need to prepare and compete for business and new jobs for their residents."
The NC Main Street and Rural Planning Center assists selected communities across the state in restoring economic vitality to historic downtowns. The Main Street staff provides strategic economic development planning and technical assistance, program guidance, and training, and education to participating communities under the structure of the Main Street America™ program, created by the National Main Street Center. The program incorporates transformative economic development strategies that are implemented through a Four-Point Approach to Downtown Revitalization: Organization, Design, Promotion, and Economic Vitality.
"Main Street is the foundation that creates the environment for economic development activity in downtown districts throughout the state and the country, especially in small to medium-sized communities," said Liz Parham, director of the N.C. Commerce Main Street and Rural Planning Center. "We are so pleased to see the tremendous investment, business development and job creation that was made in our Main Street and Small Town Main Street districts. These numbers demonstrate the success that the Main Street program has here in North Carolina."
Small Town Main Street Program
In addition, the designated Small Town Main Street communities have been successful in revitalizing the state's smallest communities. The Small Town Main Street program operates in communities with populations below 5,000 that have the capacity to run a volunteer-driven downtown revitalization initiative. Small Town Main Street communities reported the following statistics from their 2016-17 work:
  • $10,449,664 in downtown public and private investment
  • 196 new jobs
  • 38 new businesses
  • 24 building renovations
  • 45 facade improvements
  • 24,398 volunteer hours with a value of $560,913
Since its inception in 2003, the program boasts $103,380,999 in downtown public and private investment, more than 1,400 jobs, and a net gain of more than 470 businesses.
Each year participants in both programs are required to track key factors that help determine the overall health of the downtowns in the program. In 2017, the NC Main Street and Rural Planning Center worked with N.C. Commerce's Labor and Economic Analysis Division to develop a Statics Reporting Portal. The portal allows reporting to be completed online, reducing error rates and increasing efficiency.
For more information on the NC Main Street and Rural Planning Center and its programs, go to http://www.nccommerce.com/rd/main-street.

Financial Distress and Closures of Rural Hospitals
Webinar featuring NC Rural Health Research Center available for viewing

Since 2005, 122 rural hospitals have closed - 80 since 2010. George Pink, PhD, from the North Carolina Rural Health Research and Policy Analysis Center presented updated and new data about closed rural hospitals and their post-closure disposition. A model predicting financial distress and closure in rural hospitals was also described. Characteristics of hospitals at high risk of financial distress were identified and trends in risk of financial distress among rural hospitals analyzed.

Director of Advocacy
The Rural Center