In partnership with our sister organization, RISI, we’re helping rural communities realize their vision for creating digital economy jobs and kickstarting their economies.

Rural America has struggled to bounce back from the recession. Entrepreneurship has been on the decline, while automation and globalization have disrupted traditional industries. These trends are hitting rural communities particularly hard. Revitalizing rural America requires new economic development approaches tailored for the 21st century.

Through the Rural Innovation Initiative (RII) we select communities that apply to receive intensive technical assistance as they execute an innovation hub strategy: an economic development model that works to educate and train local residents in digital skills, employ them in new economy jobs, and empower them to launch the startups that will drive their digital economy.

Communities receive a combination of in-person site visits and virtual support to develop their programming and strategy, geared towards preparing their project to apply for the U.S. Economic Development Administration’s Build to Scale (B2S) Venture Challenge and similar opportunities.

Participating communities join the Rural Innovation Network, connecting with other rural communities and receiving access to additional support to develop their community efforts.

We’d like to welcome and congratulate the 2020 cohort of participating communities:

The following 10 communities were selected to participate in the 2020 Rural Innovation Initiative from a competitive applicant pool of more than 110 communities across 37 states and Puerto Rico.

These participants join the 2019 cohort, which has spent the previous year planning and implementing their individual innovation hub economic development strategies. The 2019 cohort comprises:

  • Codefi and the Marquette Tech District Foundation, Cape Girardeau, Missouri
  • Emporia, Kansas
  • Grinnell, Iowa
  • Independence, Oregon
  • Go Forward, Pine Bluff, Arkansas
  • Block22, Pittsburg, Kansas
  • Red Wing Ignite, Red Wing, Minnesota
  • 20Fathoms, Traverse City, Michigan
  • City of Wilson, North Carolina

The Innovation Initiative works with communities that have a variety of foundational elements in place already, like:

  • Existing high-speed broadband
  • Significant portions of the community located in or near Opportunity Zones, check on our map here
  • Partnership with a 4-year endowed residential college or university campus
  • Committed local leadership and a willing non-profit organization and/or local and regional government prepared to raise matching funds and lead the initiative

However, we understand that not all towns have these elements. Our goal is to help all towns across the country become smarter about economic development in the 21st century.  We have created a variety of free materials to help communities plan and execute digital economic development strategies. Read in depth about our model here, and then use our community toolkit which guides local leaders through our readiness checklist for their town. In 2020, we hope to release additional toolkits and guides for communities about fiber broadband deployment and other 21st century economic development activities. Subscribe to our newsletter to be notified when additional materials are released, and as always, be in touch if you have questions about any of CORI’s programs and services.

Ready to find out more?

Get up to speed by watching our information session.

Additional resources

For RII applicants and any communities interested in growing digital and innovation-based jobs, we have created this toolkit.

The Rural Innovation Initiative is made possible through a cooperative agreement between RISI and the U.S. Economic Development Administration. The initiative was launched in 2018 by the Center on Rural Innovation (CORI) and its sister organization, RISI. In addition to the EDA, the Siegel Family Endowment and Walmart are providing funding for the Initiative. Rural LISC and Venable LLP are strategic partners.

This content was prepared by Rural Innovations Strategies, Inc. using Federal funds under award ED18HDQ3030013 from the U.S. Economic Development Administration, U.S. Department of Commerce. The statements, findings, conclusions, and recommendations are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Economic Development Administration or the U.S. Department of Commerce.