For the first time since 2019, local leaders from the Rural Innovation Network got to collaborate in-person this month for the Rural Innovation Network Summit at Codefi in Cape Girardeau, Missouri.

Over two-plus days, they reconnected with each other and team members from the Center on Rural Innovation, and embarked on a series of workshop sessions that explored entrepreneurship initiatives, federal grant priorities, communications content development, and research on the future of work. The event also featured plenty of time for informal collaboration and networking that further the Network’s mission as a community of practice where members share best practices and learn from each other.

Here are five takeaways from the week in southeastern Missouri:

1. Raise each other’s flags.

Codefi co-founder Chris Carnell gets the credit for this one, a bit of advice he shared while discussing his organization’s journey: Whenever possible, be sure to highlight the contributions and successes of your team and your community. By lifting up others, we all get to rise closer to our goals.

2. Celebrate your wins.

The 28 communities that make up the Network are trying new strategies to spark innovation, prosperity, and resilience via the digital economy. It’s work that requires shifting the narrative about rural places and what’s possible in them. As such, celebrating wins — whether it’s funding successes, positive outcomes from skilling opportunities, or accelerator graduations — is an important part of changing how people think about their own community.

3. Collaboration is key.

Building off of No. 2, collaboration is what makes everything possible — it’s the essence of what the Network strives to be. By working together to achieve those victories, and learn from setbacks, rural leaders can create powerful examples that have the potential to advance new policies and initiatives.

4. There is power in numbers.

When it comes to creating opportunities for rural tech talent, digital workforce development, and fostering tech-based entrepreneurship, connection and critical mass can make all the difference. Success breeds success, particularly in smaller, rural communities. One successful startup can pave a path for the next wave, one tech training program can plant the seeds for more — it’s an ecosystem at work. By collaborating as a Network, local leaders and the communities they serve can unlock resources and opportunities that are otherwise unavailable to smaller cities and towns going it alone.

5. The future is rural.

Momentum is building for rural places — at the local and national levels people are recognizing its potential in the digital economy and identifying ways to unlock that ability. The ongoing efforts of the leaders that make up the Rural Innovation Network are crucial to that movement, and their ability to connect, share ideas, and grow together will fuel future success for rural America.

And it doesn’t stop here.

The Rural Innovation Network continues to grow, with three new communities — The Berkshires; Aberdeen, South Dakota; and Cochise County, Arizona — joining the ranks just this year. Together, the 28 Network communities are home to more than 1.9 million people.

To learn more about each of its communities and what makes them unique, explore the Network page. Or you can head to our YouTube channel to to see their work in action in our Rural Edge video series.

Stay connected

At the Center on Rural Innovation, we are working with rural communities across the country to help position them to thrive in the 21st-century digital economy. To learn more about our work in this space, be sure to check out our blog and sign up for our newsletter