Developing and supporting locally owned businesses in rural and Native communities is critical to increasing both rural prosperity and equity. But significant government and private enterprises are engaged in rural regions that are owned and operated outside the area. Often, these outside owners make self-interested decisions that deeply and negatively affect the rural communities involved without any consultation with rural stakeholders. In effect, these systems players, in some decisions, treat rural people and resources and communities as dispensable inputs that can simply be exploited for profit.
The full diversity of rural community stakeholders and outside owners and users of rural resources, including employee resources, must work together to establish relationships and be in regular, trusting, and transparent exchange so that the community can plan, develop, and maximize its assets equitably and sustainably, and so that outside owners make decisions that produce benefit and reduce damage for both the rural community and themselves.
Evidence suggests this building block is important because inclusive governance and ownership supports more socially desirable outcomes and a greater likelihood of commitments that benefit local communities.1 Recent research on multi-stakeholder and community benefits agreements recommends paying attention to existing power structures underlying agreements,2 among documented best practices.3 For example, among Indigenous communities, community-led impact assessments, regional political organizing, and recognition of legal rights can shift power to communities in negotiations.4
Efforts to increase corporate accountability include the Triple Bottom Line, focusing on people, planet, and prosperity, via an “accounting framework that incorporates three dimensions of performance: social, environmental and financial”.5 Certified B Corporations, for example, are “legally required to consider the impact of their decisions on their workers, customers, suppliers, community, and the environment,” and are among models for corporate social responsibility.6 Local hiring requirements can also support these goals, such as proposed “Community Pillar” standards, like holding large businesses to standards such as an “annual obligation to deploy at least 1 percent of company profits toward bettering their local employment footprint”.7
Models that can retain local equity as outcomes include local ownership and regional development programs focused on equitable rural wealth creation, with local values informing indicators for measurement and evaluation. Experts suggest using local values to inform which indicators to use for evaluation, noting a Tribal community may wish to “emphasize measures of cultural wealth and continuity”.8 Rural development hub models are among these models and designed to include people, places, and firms that have been historically marginalized in the development action and the benefits.9 Examples of regional development programs include the Reclaiming Appalachia Coalition, founded in 2016, The Reclaiming Appalachia Coalition is a regional collaboration that seeks to spur mine reclamation projects throughout Central Appalachia that are responsive to community needs and interests and accelerate the growth of new, sustainable sectors.10
The tension between private, public, and community-held lands and who has decision-making power are also relevant in tourism and ecotourism. While evidence suggests that some forms of tourism can contribute to land conservation and the well-being of local community members, often the power is maintained and benefits accrued to entities outside of the local community and risks and harm accrued to the local community.11 Examples include: tourist fishers depleting resources of local stock, commodification of local cultures in ways that reinforce stereotypes, displacement of local community for the creation of conservation areas, or due to increased real estate values driven by tourists.11 Community-based tourism provides an alternative.
Other research highlights the role of capital in rural areas. Experts have historically suggested “alternative, nontraditional venture capital programs and policy alternatives to promote the availability of equity capital in rural areas”.12 Field literature also suggests that Rural Business Investment Companies (RBICs) programs could be expanded. RBICs are “double bottom-line” companies, seeking investments that will benefit rural communities and provide good returns on investment. This model has “some similarity to traditional venture capital funds” but requires 75% or more of funds to be made in rural areas with a population of 50,000 or less.13
- Varghese 2006 in Kelly 2009
- Gunton and Markey 2021
- Cascadden 2021
- O’Faircheallaigh 2021
- Slaper 2011
- Urban-Theodos 2020
- USDA-Pender 2012
- Aspen-Hubs 2019
- Reclaiming Appalachia 2020
- Duraiappah et al. 2005
- Barkley 2003
- Third Way-Belson 2020
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We see the framework as a living document, which necessarily must evolve over time, and we seek to expand the collective ownership of the Thrive Rural Framework among rural equity, opportunity, health, and prosperity ecosystem actors. Please share your insights with us about things the framework is missing or ways it should change.