Strengthen Local Ownership and Influence

Businesses, institutions, organizations, and resources critical to the community and its future are owned locally and/or directed and advised by the full range of community members who have a stake in their durability and success.

Businesses that are owned locally are the most likely to make decisions that take into account and benefit multiple “bottom lines” in the community – and are most likely to reinvest in the community because they have a stake in its overall prosperity. Likewise, local governance and organizational leadership that brings the full range of people affected to the strategy-setting and decision-making table, and devises ways to benefit the full range of stakeholders through its choices, is most likely to strengthen – and reduce or eliminate enduring damage to – its wealth of community assets. 

Thus, investing in locally owned/directed businesses, institutions, and organizations, and strengthening multi-stakeholder engagement processes, are both important strategies to ensure that rural wealth is created, increased, maintained, and stays within the community and region. This requires “traditional” leaders to learn new ways of acting, shifting power to newcomers and those who have been left out in the past, and providing access to entrepreneurial and leadership training, resources, and financing to strivers who have been underserved.

Building Block Evidence

In rural settings, shared ownership models are examples of multi-stakeholder relationships that can produce mutual and fair value. An ownership model is a legal and governance framework to shape and bind an enterprise, root assets in communities, share resources, align expectations, and provide “an appropriate role for capital”.2 In a shared ownership model, a wider range of interests (employees, community members, the natural environment) are represented in ownership and governance.2 Examples of shared ownership models include producer cooperatives, community land trusts (make ownership of land a community resource while permitting individual ownership of houses, with the possibility of payments from Equity Trusts); conservation easements; working waterfront covenants (shared ownership agreements that attach to property deeds in perpetuity); resident-owned communities with cooperative land ownership; cooperatively owned wind farms with local ownership and management (earning community members more from wind resources than if they had rented the land to absentee-owned power generation companies).2 Rural community foundations have been recognized for effective collaboration with the public sector;3 for example, the Foundation for Appalachian Ohio has supported growing education and health-related community assets.4 

Some research finds that locally owned small businesses are positively correlated with communities’ economic growth (specifically, per capita income growth), compared with medium and larger firms which are not locally owned.5,6 Experts note that small businesses are a major employer in some rural areas, recommending support for Main Street revitalization initiatives to create “regional hubs” of locally owned businesses and employment centers, which can “contribute to a sense of neighborhood identity that retains residents and attracts new ones”.7 Main Street initiatives can also include support for businesses converting to employee-owned cooperative models of ownership;8 examples include W.J. Wheeler Insurance in rural Maine.9

  1. Varghese 2006 in Kelly 2009
  2. Kelly 2009
  3. RHI Hub-Philanthropy 2017
  4. HUD-FAO 2014
  5. Fleming 2011
  6. Atlanta Fed-Rupasingha 2013
  7. Brookings-Love 2020
  8. UMN Ext-Employee
  9. NCBA-Brown 2020

Curated REsources

From Competition to Cooperation: Insights on Rural Wealth Creation

Insights from rural practitioners who are advancing equitable prosperity and economic development in a way that embraces and strengthens the unique assets of rural regions.

WealthWorks: A Powerful Tool for Thriving Rural Places

WealthWorks is an approach to doing economic development differently that inspired and continues to inform the Thrive Rural Framework. Learn more about the WealthWorks approach.

Person looking through binoculars is birdwatching near a body of water
Learning to Grow Equitable Outdoor Recreation Economies

Discussion with rural leaders on the opportunity equitable outdoor recreation economies pose to rural areas.

outdoor rec report page cover
Mapping a New Terrain: Call to Action

As new rural outdoor recreation economies take root, we can meet this moment by improving how we do outdoor recreation development to better support rural families, businesses, and workers, create more sustainable and equitable economic systems, and improve local health and wellbeing.

African American man practicing with power band on exercise class in nature.
Pathways to Health Equity: Rural Wellbeing and Regional Assets

How the health equity and economic development fields intersect and can collaborate to bring prosperity to rural communities.

Image of man selling produce at farmer's market
A Thrive Rural Reflection: Assets at the Local and Systems levels

Many resources center asset-framing as primarily a household-level and local issue. But what is the systems-level responsibility for acting on assets?

Case Study
Group of Black practitioners smiling at camera
Building Power Together: Sustainable Forestry and African-American Land Retention Network

This short case study has insights and tips on how communities that have been historically and systematically excluded can develop authentic and effective leadership that builds power to challenge the status quo.

Case Study
Farmworkers hoeing fields
Broadening Authentic Leadership: Student Action with Farmworkers

This short case study has insights and suggestions for how rural-serving organizations can effectively welcome and truly empower leaders from all backgrounds.

Community Strategies Group Thrive Rural, Rural Development: A Scan of Field Practice and Trends, by Brian Dabson and Chitra Kumar
Rural Development: A Scan of Field Practice and Trends

What must happen for economic development to foster a more prosperous, healthier, equitable and environmentally sustainable rural America? This scan…

Rooting a new rural legacy report cover
Stewardship + Equity: Rooting a New Rural Legacy

Rural and Native communities have been stewarding the land for generations. Many are developing new ways of growing nature and…

Kids of all ages signing poster
Place-Based Shareholder Engagement: Where Community and Corporate Purpose Meet

Last week, the Business Roundtable, a powerhouse collective voice for business interests, released a new statement redefining corporate “purpose.” In it, they…

Field Items

Regional Ownership and Control report image
Regional Ownership and Control

WealthWorks on how wealth-building is not just about increasing wealth. It must include making sure those stocks of capital stay in place and that people, firms, organizations and communities in the region can make decisions about how they are used and invested in the future.

Explore Regional Wealth Building, Module 1 icon
Explore Regional Wealth Building

WealthWorks for Your Region: An Introduction provides an overview of four primary components of the WealthWorks approach. This PDF focuses on Module 1: Explore Regional Wealth Building.

Keeping Wealth Local: Shared Ownership and Wealth Control for Rural Communities report cover with local owners holding a sign with text "We Own It" and image of windmills
Keeping Wealth Local

Resources do not represent community wealth unless communities own and control them. This handbook looks at various kinds of shared ownership.

Developing Regional Economic Connectivity: Key Factors and Strategies for Urban and Rural Communities

Case studies and recommendations for practitioners and leaders to advance an economic connectivity framework that not only drives growth but also contributes to more equitable economies in which all people can participate, prosper and reach their full potential.

Wealth Creation A New Framework for Rural Economic and Community Development

A new book by WealthWorks coach Shanna Ratner that explores building wealth locally and asset-based economic development.

How the Centennial State Is Leading on Employee Ownership: A Profile of Colorado’s Employee Ownership Office

A brief from Aspen on strategies and practices implemented by Colorado’s Employee Ownership Office to better understand how employee ownership can be supported and grown.

How RCAC’s RELieF program helped two small businesses recover from their lost summer

Stories of local ownership and support from RCAC, a national technical assistance provider.

Work team smiling and giving camera two thumbs up
Keeping Rural Businesses Open Across Generations

Selling a company to its employees could be a way to preserve small town and rural businesses with generations of tradition behind them. Rob Brown from Business Ownership Solutions has some advice on how to do it.

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.

Aspen Institute Community Strategies Group