Building digital economies across rural America

Through the Rural Innovation Initiative, we work with communities to develop and execute on digital economy strategies that support local tech job creation and tech-based entrepreneurship.

Many rural places already have key assets in place that can be used to build digital economies, including gigabit-speed broadband, available space, low cost of living, attractive downtowns, outdoor amenities, colleges and universities, and strong community connections. Rural communities can use these to build inclusive digital economies.

Our comprehensive approach

Through our work with communities across the country, we have learned that it is essential to work on multiple fronts at the same time: if you train workers to code, but they can’t find local or remote coding jobs, these newly-skilled workers will leave the area. And if you help people find remote work or start digital businesses but you don’t have spaces for these digital workers to connect and cross-pollinate, they may leave or lose momentum.

We’ve identified the Foundational Elements, Necessary Infrastructure and Direct Drivers communities need to build thriving digital economy ecosystems.

Foundational Elements

These are the key elements within a community, such as housing or an attractive “live-work” downtown, that enable a digital economy ecosystem to thrive. Every community will have a different configuration of these elements, and while not all of them will be robust, large gaps will prevent progress.

Necessary digital economy infrastructure

We’ve identified the necessary infrastructure communities need to participate in the digital economy. These are imperative for communities if they want to drive outcomes on their own. Without them, communities will struggle to achieve local wealth creation and quality digital employment. 

  • Broadband infrastructure
  • Coworking and entrepreneurship spaces
  • Local leadership capacity

Direct Drivers

Direct Drivers enable communities to successfully compete in the digital economy. These focus on building local capacity and providing access to digital jobs, capital, and workforce development and support. We focus on developing these through the Rural Innovation Initiative:

Outcomes of a thriving digital economy ecosystem

  • Digital employment: Workers are successfully matched with quality digital jobs that can be done from small towns, either through remote work or homegrown digital roles.
  • Wealth creation: Local entrepreneurs build digital-related businesses that bring wealth back to the community, support other local businesses, and stabilize the community’s tax base, and grow the local economy.

Looking for more resources that will help you develop your digital economy ecosystem strategy? Visit our resource center for our community readiness assessment and toolkits that will help you kickstart your strategy.

Learn more about the Rural Innovation Initiative and our work with communities across the country.