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Staunton selected for rural innovation initiative

Staunton Creative Community FundStaunton Creative Community Fund has been chosen in a highly competitive process to participate in the 2020 Rural Innovation Initiative.

The technical assistance program supports rural communities working to create digital economy jobs with an innovation hub strategy.

The Rural Innovation Initiative is made possible through a cooperative agreement between Rural Innovation Strategies Inc. and the U.S. Economic Development Administration. The Initiative was launched in 2018 by the Center on Rural Innovation 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.

“Staunton Creative Community Fund has done an impressive job of partnering with regional organizations to lay the groundwork for a vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem in the Shenandoah Valley,” said Matt Dunne, executive director of RISI and founder of the Center on Rural Innovation. “We were impressed with the powerful regional approach this team is taking and look forward to working with them to continue the momentum through our technical assistance program.”

”We are thrilled to be working with RISI,” said Debbie Irwin, executive director of Staunton Creative Community Fund. “We can’t wait to see what our Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Development Committee and the entire Shenandoah Valley can accomplish with their guidance.”

“As Chair of GO Virginia Region 8 Entrepreneurial Ecosystem, it is an honor and a pleasure to work closely with Debbie Irwin, SCCF, and RISI to develop an innovation hub strategy,” said Mary Lou Bourne, Director of Technology Innovation and Economic Development at James Madison University. “We are thrilled our region was selected for this opportunity, recognizing the strong level of collaboration in the Shenandoah Valley region with SCCF and our ecosystem partners. GO Virginia supports programs to create more high-paying jobs through incentivized collaboration between business, education, and government to diversify and strengthen the economy in every region of the Commonwealth.”

SCCF and other Rural Innovation Initiative participants will receive a range of support, from on-site and video conference time with RISI staff to opportunities for collaboration with similarly motivated communities, as well as templates and written resources 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 economies.

RISI will work with SCCF and other participants to identify and prepare for federal and other funding opportunities that fit their unique attributes and goals. Some 2020 Rural Innovation Initiative communities may choose to apply for federal funding opportunities like the Regional Innovation Strategies program this year if they raise up to $750k in matching funds in the first half of the year, while others will focus first on establishing plans and partnerships to build their digital economy strategies. Participants will also have access to significant technical assistance to refine their economic development strategies, help them identify partnerships, and leverage existing resources.

The Rural Innovation Initiative launched in 2019 with nine participant communities. In its first year, the Initiative catalyzed $5.3 million in new investment in rural innovation hubs. More than 110 communities from 37 states and Puerto Rico submitted requests to participate in the technical assistance program this year.

“Momentum is building in small towns across the country for new strategies that leverage local assets and support sustainable economic success,” said Dunne. “These communities are taking forward looking approaches that foster entrepreneurship, catalyze startups, and support strong local digital economy ecosystems. We are excited to work in conjunction with EDA and these communities to change the narrative about what’s possible in rural America.”

Participating communities were selected because they are in designated rural counties according to U.S. Census definitions or consortiums of rural communities in close geographic proximity to one another. Successful communities have a combination of the following attributes:

  • Existing high-speed broadband;
  • Available real estate, or significant portions of the community located in Opportunity Zones and/or New Market Tax Credit census tracts;
  • A relationship with a four-year endowed residential college or university campus willing to partner in this effort; and
  • A nonprofit organization prepared to lead the initiative.

RISI is also creating a virtual network to support capacity building, link innovation hubs, enable communities to make connections to new sources of capital, expand their networks with national technology leaders, and secure digital economy jobs for remote workers in their communities.

RISI works with its sister organization CORI to achieve sustainable economic success in small town America. The first round of the Rural Innovation Initiative in 2019 catalyzed $5.3 million in new investment in rural innovation hubs in three small towns and brought nine communities into the virtual network.

CORI developed and regularly updates the Rural Opportunity Map, a suite of data visualization and mapping tools to help local leaders, national policymakers, investors, and donors see the potential in rural America.


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