There is new attention to rural America with a focus on economy and community. Rural economies have not rebounded the way larger urban areas have in recent years. There has been a loss of jobs and an outmigration of people – especially young people. This has led to a renewed interest in the health and success of rural America. Radically Rural offered new ideas, a national audience, lots of walking and a pitchfork challenge. Extension was well represented at the two-day conference invited as speakers and joined as participants.
Over 500 people representing New Hampshire and 24 other states gathered to consider new ideas in entrepreneurship, main street, arts and culture, community journalism, renewable energy and working lands. This conference was different. The Hanna Grimes Center for Entrepreneurship positions the conference within the City of Keene. Participants were able to walk to different presentations, meet new people on the street, eat at local restaurants and mingle with Keene State students and faculty. It was amazing to look down Main Street and see hundreds of people with their Radically Rural red swag bag making connections and sharing ideas.
Conference attendees were adding to the vibrancy of downtown and certainly to the local economy. Community spirit came through with the large number of friendly volunteers offering to assist and show off their community – we felt welcome.
Here are my top takeaways:
- Main Street matters to people and they are eager to find ways to revitalize the heart of their community. There was great interest in Extension’s First Impressions work and workshop participants gave some feedback on their first impressions of Keene.
- People are excited and supportive of local entrepreneurship. This came through from the early morning keynote from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation (who supports 1 Million Cups Central NH) to the sharing of new ideas and awarding of a $10,000 prize for best idea announced at the evening Connect2019 event. Entrepreneurs shared their experience making rural communities their home and downtown a vibrant place.
- The arts and culture are valued and have an economic impact in rural towns. The Walldogs Murals on the west side of downtown are beautiful, share local history and social change and demonstrate the power of volunteer efforts.
- Extension is known and valued. We networked with state-wide partners and met new people from other states who were quick to ask if there was an Extension community economic development effort in their state – we’ll help make those connections!