R2R 2015 Energizes Attendees
“Go fast alone, build strong together,” declared an attendee of the 9th Regards to Rural conference, which brought 400 rural community members and industry experts from throughout the Pacific Northwest and beyond to Bend, OR. R2R 2015, Navigating the Rivers of Change: Rural Communities in Transition, was two days of learning held in June with over 30 skill-building workshops and sessions through which keynoters and session presenters provided new strategies for communities in transition.
The event started well before the opening keynote on Friday morning with Thursday’s pre-conference activities. The afternoon kicked off with a Central Oregon WealthWorks Learning Collaborative trolley tour to explore the benefits of regionally-focused wealth building efforts. Those on the trolley tour learned about WealthWorks initiatives and saw hands-on how the WealthWorks Northwest opportunity to bring wealth to rural places is being implemented. They heard from business owners involved in WealthWorks Northwest including Juniper Jungle Farm, Sticks Sawmill, Worthy Brewing, and Gold Rush Malt and learned about their challenges and opportunities.
Back at the Riverhouse Convention Center, Thursday’s R2R pre-session was presented by Shanna Ratner, Principal of Yellow Wood Associates and R2R keynote speaker, along with RDI’s Shawn Morford and Noelle Colby-Rotell. Pre-session attendees learned about the WealthWorks framework, a bridge between community development and economic development which improves the livelihoods of economically marginalized people and places by creating wealth that is owned, controlled, and reinvested in place. The history of the framework, best practices, and ways to measure success were also shared.
Roger Brooks, tourism and downtown development expert, opened the conference on Friday morning with his energizing keynote, the 20 Ingredients of an Outstanding Downtown. The audience scrambled to take notes and capture his points on the key elements of a successful downtown, such as a plan, a good first impression, plentiful parking, and more. The excitement of the morning carried through to the breakout sessions with topics ranging from leadership development, economic vitality, managing conflict, grant seeking basics, community-based change, and effective collaboration, to the ART of delegation, community capitals framework, appreciative inquiry, building strategic budgets, community public offerings, historic theaters, and more. Throughout the two days, attendees also had the opportunity to meet the exhibitors and visit with organizations engaged in and supporting rural Oregon and the Pacific Northwest.
During her afternoon keynote address, Under Secretary of USDA Rural Development Lisa Mensah talked about championing stronger support and creating a better future for all America because “rural America’s success is America’s success.” During her inspiring speech, Ms. Mensah touched on points such as ending child poverty, keeping youth in our rural communities, and moving the needle to long-term sustainable success.
The Regional Reflections dinner on Friday featured presentations from rural community members who spoke about their experiences in RDI-delivered programs and the knowledge that they’re working for the greater good in their communities. We heard from Georgia Nowlin and Darrell Moorehead of Wild Rivers Coast, Kathryn and Tony DeBone of La Pine, and Casey Clark-Ney and Gustavo Morales of the Western Treasure Valley. As Georgia Nowlin of Brandy Peak Distillery so eloquently put it, this work is like taking “the proverbial pebble of programs and training, tossing it into the community pond, and letting the ripple effects of community engagement expand in ever widening circles to reach out and eventually touch everybody.”
Shanna Ratner closed Regards to Rural 2015 with her keynote presentation where she shared a perspective on what it looks like to do economic development differently. Ms. Ratner started developing the WealthWorks framework eight years ago and has worked with people throughout the country as they’ve put it into practice on the ground. According to the Pew Research Center, income inequality has been increasing steadily since the 1970s and has now reached levels not seen since 1928. “If we keep on doing what we’re doing, we’ll keep on getting what we’ve got,” shared Ms. Ratner. The WealthWorks framework was developed as a step toward achieving equitable and sustainable economic development and resilient rural communities.
Her talk focused on what is working and what we can do, and are already doing, to steer the ship in a new direction. At the end of her presentation, Ms. Ratner invited us to take a deep breath and consider what we learned at R2R 2015. We closed our eyes for a moment to imagine a world in which each region of Oregon has many value chains in multiple sectors that interconnect and support one another, growing all eight forms of wealth in our communities without undermining any as a foundation for a truly sustainable economy. “Can you see it?” she asked. “To get there, be intentionally inclusive, understand each other’s self-interests, and be creative! Share what you learn so others can learn with you.”
All of the participants, partners, presenters, sponsors, exhibitors, and planners made this year's conference a huge success, and the energy attendees brought to the event is the energy they bring to their rural communities. “The splashes you are making are not little splashes; combined, they are a river,” reminded RDI’s Director of Operations Heidi Khokhar as Regards to Rural 2015 came to a close. For more information about the Regards to Rural conference and to view or download materials from R2R 2015, visit the website.
Presented by RDI, in partnership with The Ford Family Foundation, the Nonprofit Association of Oregon, Oregon State University Rural Studies Program and Extension Service, and Sustainable Northwest.