For Immediate Release
Sept. 27, 2022

HARTLAND, Vt. — Today, the Center on Rural Innovation (CORI), a national nonprofit committed to advancing economic prosperity in rural America through the creation of inclusive tech economy ecosystems that support scalable entrepreneurship and tech job creation, announced a new initiative to expand its footprint that is focused specifically on building inclusive tech economies in the rural South. 

With financial support from the Walton Family Foundation, CORI aims to work closely with communities across the southeast U.S., including the Black Belt and the Mississippi-Arkansas Delta regions, to launch and scale digital economy ecosystem-building strategies through its Rural Innovation Initiative program. 

The Rural Innovation Initiative was launched in 2018 by CORI and its mission-aligned collaborating organization, Rural Innovations Strategies, Inc. (RISI). To date, this program has graduated 29 communities and helped rural organizations secure more than $17 million to develop strategies and build out programs that can accelerate their local digital economic development efforts.

“The launch of our Southeast Initiative is something that CORI has been building toward for some time. We recognized that the rural South hadn’t been a part of our work to date and that we needed to be intentional about reaching those communities, whose residents face some of the largest opportunity gaps in rural America,” said Matt Dunne, CORI’s founder and executive director. “The tech economy can and should have the power to change lives in every rural community in the country. This initiative will help us get closer than ever to that goal.”

These regions of the South, in particular, with many majority-Black communities under-resourced due to the effects of 400 years of systemic racism, present unique challenges and opportunities when it comes to overcoming the digital divide and the rural-urban opportunity gap, and achieving tech-based economic transformation in an inclusive way. The employment rate of the metro Black population is 30% higher than the rural Black population, and their per capita income is 50% higher. And nearly 50% of the rural Black population lives in persistent-poverty areas — compared to 12% of the rural white population and 9% of the metro Black population. That is why CORI and RISI have committed to action to address the tremendous disparities that these rural communities face.

CORI’s Southeast Initiative features four phases of engagement with communities. After building relationships with and listening to local leadership, the first phase is an assessment of each community’s assets, opportunities, gaps, and challenges. The second phase involves several months of technical assistance to produce a broadband or tech economy strategy. The third and fourth phases build on that by supporting communities as they craft funding proposals and pursue resources, and establishing nationwide partnerships through CORI’s network of rural communities.

Earlier this year, CORI hired a regional director of the southeast U.S., Brandon Campbell, to coordinate this work. A native Arkansan and resident of rural Mississippi, Campbell will be building and managing relationships with local and regional leadership and digital economic development stakeholders, and identifying opportunities in the Black Belt and Mississippi Delta regions, with an emphasis on Black, Indigenous, and people of color, and other underserved communities that would benefit from developing a tech ecosystem.

“I am excited to be a part of the CORI team and be able to impact, innovate, and inspire in rural southeast U.S., with an emphasis on BIPOC and under-resourced communities, and build inclusive tech economy ecosystems,” said Campbell. “I welcome the opportunity to collaborate with leaders across the region, desiring to advance the lives of their residents by creating generational wealth, tech businesses, and high-paying tech jobs.” 

Communities that graduate from the Rural Innovation Initiative are then invited to become members of CORI’s Rural Innovation Network, a growing collective of rural communities in 21 states across the country that are working to train local residents in tech skills, employ them in new economy jobs, and empower them to launch the startups that will drive their future economies. 


About the Center on Rural Innovation

The Center on Rural Innovation (CORI) is a national nonprofit committed to advancing economic prosperity in rural America through the creation of inclusive digital economy ecosystems that support scalable entrepreneurship and tech job creation. Established in 2017, CORI is at the heart of a dynamic social enterprise focused on closing the rural opportunity gap. To maximize all possible resources to address this critical problem, the organization partners with a taxable nonprofit, Rural Innovation Strategies, Inc. (RISI), and a seed fund, CORI Innovation Fund (CIF), focused on early-stage technology companies located in rural areas.


Contact: Rebekah Collinsworth
Center on Rural Innovation (CORI)