Cultivating Community Wealth: Strategies for Building Rural Wealth, Part 2

This post is part of an eight-week series on Cultivating Community Wealth.

Strategies summarized in this post include business retention & expansion, tourism, retiree attraction, workforce education, shop/eat local campaigns, and fundraising campaigns. Strategies discussed in last week’s post include industrial recruitment and financial incentives, clusters, value-chain development, community business matching, entrepreneurship including youth entrepreneurship, and regionalism. Recall that particular strategies may be suited to the assets, goals, and values of some communities but not others. Discussion of a strategy does not imply endorsement, and leaders are encouraged to evaluate strategies based on the needs and assets of their community and region. And again, multiple strategies are often employed, and strategies can reinforce each other.

Business Retention and Expansion. Communities often put a lot of effort into attracting and even growing new businesses, but investing time in existing businesses is another worthwhile strategy. Business Retention and Expansion (BR&E) programs recognize that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. Paying attention to the needs of existing businesses can help to keep existing businesses in the community. Typical BR&E programs usually involve a local team going out and systematically interviewing local business owners to learn their mission, constraints, needs, and future plans. If a business wants to expand but perceives a lack of local space or opportunity, the community can often help connect that business to local resources. Left unvisited, the business may have left the community. A BR&E program can also help uncover small businesses that are not recognized in the community, including businesses operated out of homes and garages. All of the information can help make connections between existed businesses and infrastructure, identify future needs and opportunities, and facilitate the growth of local businesses and even clusters.

Tourism. Tourism is attractive to many communities because it brings money into the region without the infrastructure and employment demands of a full-time population influx. While it’s sometimes surprising what makes for tourism destination, communities looking to apply a tourism strategy need to have something to attract outside visitors. Rural communities are often blessed with abundant and unique natural resources, well-kept building with historic significance, strong vestiges of unique industries from days gone by, etc. (all forms of wealth that can be leveraged to create additional wealth). The communities also need to be readily accessible by the public, which can make tourism a challenge for remote places. Small communities may find it advantageous to partner with other regional communities to ensure visitors have enough to occupy them for an entire weekend as day visitors spend significantly less than overnight guests. Some communities have faced constraints to communities because they did not provide sewer systems and septic requirements precluded the possibility of attracting or building an adequate hotel. Tourism does require some minimum level of capital and other strategies. One of the biggest hurdles many communities face is that guests must feel welcome by the general population. Tourism may be subject to seasonality as well, which can actually benefit some areas who want to avoid extra traffic during certain times of the year. For example, some types of nature tourism avoid conflicts with agricultural harvest periods.

Attracting retirees. Attracting retirees is another strategy for some communities with excess infrastructure. When integrated into existing communities, retirees spend time and money in the local community and use largely existing infrastructure (Reeder and Bagi 2014). Retirees do not require the range of expensive infrastructure and services that younger families demand (education). Retirees do however require the availability of good healthcare, and as they get older, they may need transportation options. On the other hand, at later stages of life, they may move closer to families and hospitals in cities. See the Go Texan Certified Retirement Communities program for more information about attracting retirees in Texas.

Workforce education. The first post in this series made the point that money is not the only form of wealth. Amenities, infrastructure, and social and human capital are among other forms of wealth. Workforce education adds to the communities’ human capital. Such education can include job training and retraining, particularly if a large firm or industry exits the region and new skills are needed to attract new employers. The training may be industry-specific or may focus on soft-skills such as customer service, resume writing, or even the basics of showing up on time to work. Community colleges are often responsive to these needs, and high schools and Extension programs can also provide such training in trades and soft skills. A related concern is the inability to match existing workers to available jobs due to language barriers or drug use. Churches, non-profits and other entities are available to help with job applications in many communities. Drug abuse is often a regional problem, and some regions have identified ways to address these concerns and improve residents’ quality of life as well as job prospects. Some of their stories, challenges, and ideas are available here.

Shop/eat local campaigns. Many Chambers of Commerce and other groups sponsor shop or eat local campaigns. This is a leakage-reduction strategy that usually involves downtown shops and restaurants and farmers’ markets. For the farmers’ market perspective, see Jablonski (2014). By spending our dollars at home rather than in a nearby city, we keep money and wealth in the local economy. The strategy is focused on retaining wealth rather than bringing in new wealth. However, some downtowns have special events that bring people from outside the community to shop as well. For example, Brenham, Texas, hosts the Uptown Swirl in January, attracting wine-lovers and people who enjoy spending time with friends to its Downtown Brenham National Registry Distric. In fact, the Uptown Swirl has been so popular that Downtown Brenham has launched Brew Step, a Texas craft beer walk—which, conveniently, is next weekend (Saturday, October 18, 2014, 2-7pm). The center of rural Affairs recently posted an “invest local” article, which may be intriguing to some communities.

Fundraising campaigns. Sometimes communities just need money to help with a special need or project. Communities can and do conduct fundraising campaigns. Sometimes alumni rolls of local schools are tapped to fund projects. Some communities are exploring bequests from long-time residents. Facebook and crowdfunding are newer ways to reach broad audiences. See examples of crowdfunding here.

There is, of course, any number of ways to cultivate community wealth. These are only a handful. Again, regionalism is a strategy that enhances breadth and depth of community assets, as discussed in the first post in this series and in many of The Role of Rural posts.

Finally, don’t forget to celebrate successes, even small ones. Let the community and region know that you are making progress, and get them excited to join the effort!


Depew, Brian. 2014. Go Beyond Buy Local. Think Invest Local Too! Center for Rural Affairs, Lyons, NE, October. Available at:

Go Texan Certified Retirement Communities program.

Jablonski, Becca B.R. 2014. Evaluating the impact of farmers’ markets using a rural wealth creation approach. In Rural Wealth Creation, John L. Pender, Bruce A. Weber, Thomas G. Johnson, and J. Matthew Fannin, eds. Routledge, New York, p.153-166.

Reeder, Richard J., and Faqir S. Bagi. 2014. Attracting retirees as a rural wealth creation strategy. In Rural Wealth Creation, John L. Pender, Bruce A. Weber, Thomas G. Johnson, and J. Matthew Fannin, eds. Routledge, New York, p.153-166.

Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. Texas Friendly Hospitality Program.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 1997. Bringing Excellence To Substance Abuse Services in Rural And Frontier America Technical Assistance Publication (TAP) Series 20.DHHS Publication No. (SMA) 97-3134. Public Health Service Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Rockville, MD. Available at:,d.b2U

Rural Wealth Creation – USDA-ERS report related to the book – Choices Magazine issue on the subject of rural wealth, mostly by book authors


Pender, John, Alexander Marre, and Richard Reeder. 2012. Rural Wealth Creation: Concepts, Strategies, and Measures. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service. Economic Research Report Number 131. Washington, DC: March.




Wealth Creation and Rural Livelihoods – includes a forum and listserv



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