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Reflecting on One Year of Innovation at Rural Development

Posted by Anne Hazlett, Assistant to the Secretary for Rural Development in Rural Technology
Oct 12, 2018
A person working on a computer near broadband cables
Data drives targeted investments to help more rural Americans gain new and improved access to essential infrastructure like broadband.

Last year, Secretary Perdue created the Rural Development Innovation Center, a team devoted to partnership development, regulatory reform, data analysis, and risk management. With a mission of coordinating resources and providing creative solutions for our rural customer, the Innovation Center is designed to hard wire innovation into our program delivery. In recognition of the Innovation Center’s first anniversary, I’d like to share a few reflections on a year of transformation in Rural Development through innovation.

Tackling Important Issues Facing Rural Communities

The Innovation Center is tackling a number of important issues facing rural communities such as access to capital, opioid misuse, and rural workforce development through building partnerships, convening resources, and facilitating the adoption of best practices. In the area of rural workforce, for example, we are in the very early stages of building a Rural Workforce Innovation Network. This collaboration is intended to bring rural partners together to identify and share solutions to this critical challenge, connect to available resources, and increase access to workforce training opportunities.

Building Foundations for Rural Prosperity

This year, the Innovation Center spearheaded a new initiative to partner with several technical assistance providers on asset-based planning for rural communities -- plans that create a foundation for rural prosperity. Through the Rural Economic Development Initiative (REDI) (PDF, 38 KB), Rural Development is partnering to provide planning assistance that will enable local leaders to assess and harness regional assets, create an asset-based plan for economic development, and implement a strategic vision for their future.

Driving Innovation with Data Analytics

The Innovation Center is driving innovation and strategic decision-making with data analytics. A newly-created Data Analytics team is developing, implementing and monitoring outcome-based performance measures for Rural Development programs so we can maximize the impact of our resources. For example, how many people are we serving in our telecommunications investments versus simply how many dollars we obligated. In addition to program performance, the Innovation Center is building a library of data about rural communities such as information on population, education and workforce. With this tool, our State Directors and field-based team can harness the power of data analytics to make strategic decisions about investment and partner engagement.

Partnering in Recovery and Resilience

From the historic storms of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria last fall to Hurricane Michael which has devastated Florida this week, the Innovation Center understands that rural communities have unique needs in disaster recovery and building resilience. With an eye for innovation, the Innovation Center is partnering to ensure that rural America can rebuild. Earlier this year, for example, the Innovation Center worked with its other federal partners to help small towns impacted by Hurricanes Maria and Irma access resources for broadband, telemedicine and distance learning capabilities.

Simplifying Access to Capital for Rural Communities

To help build economic opportunity in rural communities, the Innovation Center is simplifying our regulations to access capital. Last month, the Regulations team launched a major rulemaking to streamline our regulations for four guaranteed loan programs into one common platform. These programs provide funding to start, improve and expand businesses and build critical infrastructure. With a process made more simple, we can support modern lending practices, accelerate the time needed for loan approvals, and increase the amount of capital available in rural communities.

At Rural Development, we have a long-standing motto that we are committed to the future of rural communities. After just one year in existence, the Rural Development Innovation Center has taken great strides through partnership development, regulatory reform, data analysis and risk management to ensure that rural America is a place of prosperity now and for generations to come.

People standing in front of buildings
The Rural Development Innovation Center is tackling a number of important issues facing rural communities such as workforce development.
Category/Topic: Rural Technology