A recent webinar, State Strategies for Successful Rural Projects, addressed how state economic development leaders are working with local partners to create pathways for impactful rural development projects. Speakers explained that economic context, communication, new career opportunities, and common objectives are among the keys to success. 

Thank you to our colleagues at the State Economic Development Executives network and the Center for Regional Economic Competitiveness for hosting this event. I was pleased to serve as the moderator for the program. 

Nick Grimley, Director of Entrepreneurship and Tech Commercialization for the Vermont Department of Economic Development, presented his state’s strategy centered around the Vermont GaN (gallium nitride ) Tech Hub. As a small, rural state, Vermont has put significant effort into rural development. Initiatives are built around local engagement to understand local priorities and making sure the state’s economic development tools can be applied in different areas of the state. Another strategy is providing technical assistance to local partners, which included application for tech hub status, aimed at helping Vermont become a global leader in GaN semiconductor development and production. 

The tech hub strategy supports rural development by creating new higher-skilled occupations for Vermont workers. Today, nearly two-thirds of Vermonters work in low skilled occupations despite relatively high education levels. The tech hub also fills an innovation gap by supporting an Advanced Design Computing Center hosted at the University of Vermont, a test and commercialization lab, and a prototyping center. The objective is to attract students, researchers, new jobs, and startups while supporting existing companies in the region. 

In Oregon, the Mass Timber Tech Hub is capitalizing on rural Oregon’s expertise in wood products while also meeting statewide and urban needs for affordable housing and sustainability. Larry Holzgang from Business Oregon, Ian McDonald from the TallWood Design Institute, and Marcus Kaufman from the Oregon Department of Forestry presented on Oregon’s approach. The tech hub will involve the design and manufacture of engineered wood products, promote mass timber construction that can reduce the carbon footprint of the building industry and increase housing affordability, and conduct research and development to support ongoing innovation and application of mass timber technologies. 

The Mass Timber Tech Hub supports rural development but is also deliberately tied to statewide and urban priorities. For example, the effort aims to reduce the construction industry’s carbon footprint while enhancing housing affordability across the state, thereby addressing two major statewide priorities. The strategy will help create much needed living wage jobs in rural areas. It is also expected to support construction and manufacturing jobs in other areas of the state. Tech hub activities will also invest in innovation and research initiatives that engage and benefit enterprises of all sizes. .

It’s about place based investment, it’s about focusing on a particular region of of the country and a particular industry sector and seeing in the next 10 years can that be turned into a globally competitive region.

Both states offer valuable lessons for successful rural economic development:

Collaboration with Local Partners. Building from local strengths and economic context helps ensure that development initiatives meet regional needs and leverage local expertise. Vermont worked with its Regional Development Corps partners and held regular listening tours around the state to engage with local leaders, stakeholders and businesses. In Oregon, collaboration includes state and regional economic development organizations, universities, researchers, and companies. 

Education and Workforce Development. Investing in education and training programs is crucial for preparing the local workforce for new industries and technologies. The tech hub will provide more high skill opportunities for Vermont’s residents. In Oregon, a variety of partners are involved in skill development initiatives to expand forestry workforce training programs that will attract, develop, and retain a skilled forestry workforce and promote careers to a new generation of diverse workers. Since smart forestry technology will make woodwork safer, it can also help attract more young people into the industry.

Continuous Communication. Regular communication and feedback mechanisms help maintain stakeholder engagement and enable new insights that can be integrated into a flexible planning and development process. Vermont used the tech hub designation to reinforce its communication and engagement strategies, through a launch event and biweekly Q&A sessions. Oregon is promoting its efforts through a new Mass Timber Rising video that explains the value of this work across the state.

For more information: 

State Strategies for Successful Rural Projects – video

Oregon Mass Timber Coalition

Mass Timber Rising video

Vermont GaN Tech Hub