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 a new approach.

The Rural Innovation Initiative is helping communities change this story.

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 i6 program 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.

The first cohort of communities joined RII in 2019

We launched RII in 2019, following a competitive nationwide search with 130 applicants from 40 states. Nine communities were selected and then completed our fast-paced technical assistance sprint in the first quarter of 2019, to become our inaugural cohort.

The 2019 Cohort of the Rural Innovation Initiative:

  • 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 2020 application is open through 11/18/19

Eligible communities are designated rural counties according to U.S. Census definitions or represent regional efforts that cover a majority rural area.

Successful communities will ideally have a combination of the following attributes:

  • 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

Applications take 10-15 minutes.  Some communities may be interviewed after submitting an application.

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.

RII is a joint Initiative between the Center on Rural Innovation (CORI) and  Rural Innovation Strategies Inc. (RISI), made possible through a cooperative agreement between RISI and the U.S. Economic Development Administration.


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.