Rural economic development conference to meet in-person for first time since 2019

What’s happening: For the first time since 2019, the Small Town and Rural Development Conference will be meeting in person. Now in its 18th year, the annual conference was canceled in 2020 and held virtually in 2021, a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Registration is currently open to attend the conference, which is scheduled to run from Monday, May 16, through Wednesday, May 18, at the Crystal Mountain resort in Thompsonville.

What it is: Hosted by Rural Partners of Michigan, the Small Town and Rural Development Conference gathers those working in and on behalf of small and rural communities throughout the state for a three-day conference complete with prominent guest speakers, the Consumers Energy Foundation Pitch Competition, networking opportunities, and more.

Why it’s important: “This is the only statewide conference that is focused on rural economic development that we have,” says Jessica AcMoody, policy director for the Community Economic Development Association of Michigan. “This really offers a great opportunity for those people working on behalf of the smaller communities in Michigan, to share their best practices, learn about innovative programs that are happening around the state, explore ways to collaborate, and find out how they’re best using federal dollars that are coming down.”

What’s planned: There are four primary tracks being explored at this year’s conference: housing, broadband access, renewable energy, and economic development. Prominent guest speakers include Xochitl Torres Small, USDA under secretary for Rural Development; Brandon Fewins, state director for USDA Rural Development; Sarah Lucas, deputy for Rural Development, MDARD Office of Rural Development; and more.

Welcome back: “This is the first time we’ve been able to get together in person since Covid hit. It’s a great opportunity to share the challenges facing rural communities and the innovative ways we’re solving those issues,” AcMoody says. “The conference offers a great way for rural community leaders to connect and network. That’s the biggest deal with being back in-person; it’s much easier to network.”

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