About our work

Data for rural places is notoriously hard to find and use. Without data visualizations, maps or even raw data in an accessible form, economic development directors with small staffs often struggle to contextualize their region’s economic assets. This can be particularly challenging when making decisions about investments, strategies and grant opportunities.

This data gap also means that policymakers and philanthropists find it difficult to understand the vast and varied geography that is rural America. And because comprehensive data is unavailable, the media is often forced to rely on anecdotes when discussing rural issues, unintentionally contributing to narratives that do not reflect the full complexity of rural America.

The Center on Rural Innovation recognized this gap and the critical importance of making data both available and accessible to community leaders, among others. With philanthropic support, we began to build data-driven maps, tools, and other resources that highlight rural America’s opportunities and challenges.

In developing these resources, we hope not just to make data about rural communities accessible, but also to broaden the conversation and change the narrative about what’s possible in rural America.

The Rural Opportunity Map

In 2019, we launched our core data platform: The Rural Opportunity Map, a suite of visualization tools that put more than 300 cleaned and curated datasets — spanning economic, health, education, and other metrics — at the fingertips of rural leaders ready to drive change in their communities. Here are some examples of the Rural Opportunity Map project:

Whether you’re an economic developer looking at housing prices, a venture capitalist scouring for startup activity, a local official identifying grant eligibility, or a national program officer at a foundation hoping to better understand small town America, the Rural Opportunity Map can help.