Skip to main content

Innovation Stories


Building on Existing Partnerships in Wimbledon, North Dakota

Every rural community has its unique opportunities and challenges. One challenge many small towns have in common is a decline of investment that often leads to outmigration of young families, a shrinking workforce and a declining tax base. Recent research shows that many people now choose their hometown based on “quality of life assets” – those special traits that make a town a great place to live, work and play. Through partnerships with more than 40 community members, 10 local organizations, and one innovative USDA program, the people of Wimbledon, N.D., (population 209) are improving their quality of life by investing in themselves, and in each other.

The USDA Rural Development (RD) “Livable Communities Program” is thoughtfully designed to attract investment, keep families entertained, and hold onto jobs so that wealth stays within their community. The technical assistance program guides them through the step-by-step process of coming together to develop an actionable “livability strategy.” The strategy acts as a roadmap toward prosperity that builds off existing strengths, documents them, and walks through how to leverage community investment strategically. The simple and flexible process is designed so that it can be tailored to the diverse needs of each community, regardless of size, capacity, or wealth.

The engaging four-month process is conveniently implemented in four phases. RD has developed a workbook that can be used as a tool to provide process tips, templates for action plans or agendas, and lists supporting organizations and resources along the way.

Phase 1) Organize

The community hosts the first meeting to publicize their participation in the Livable Community program and brings together a steering committee to lead the process. Community members are encouraged to think about what makes their town unique and why it is a great place to live.

Phase 2) Assess

At a second community meeting, the community chooses four of six possible “livability modules” (Strong Community, Local Foods Strategy, Placemaking, Local Economy, Planning for the Future, Marketing Strategy) that represent the town’s future areas of transformation. A separate meeting for each module is encouraged to focus on existing assets needed to leverage different types of resources.

Phase 3) Strategize

The steering committee works with stakeholders to compile an action plan for each module that identify what projects (steps) the community wants to pursue in each area, who will lead those projects, when they plan to finish, and what resources are available that support their work.

Phase 4) Implement

Each of the four action plans are submitted to RD and then presented back to the whole community at the third and final community meeting. In turn, the community is branded a North Dakota Livable Community, and receives tailored technical assistance from a variety of community partners to identify resources and funding available to help with implementation. To maintain the brand, the community is required to revisit their action plans on an annual basis, submit a progress report, and host a community celebration. The process of bringing community members together to dream and create a shared vision for their community is ultimately the goal.

The fun, adaptable nature of the livability strategy enables the people of Wimbledon to continuously implement and refine their action plans for years to come, and have only just begun to scratch the surface of their communities’ ultimate potential.



Partnership Helps Improve the Quality of Life in Zuni Pueblo, New Mexico

Families in the rural Village of Zuni Pueblo, N.M., no longer have to drive more than 40 miles for food and other supplies. With the construction of the town’s first-ever full service grocery store, they can now save money and time by shopping in their own community.

In 2017, Pinnacle Bank used a USDA Business and Industry program loan guaranteed to construct Halona Village Market, replacing a smaller store that was poorly stocked and did not offer fresh meats, fruits and vegetables. The new market carries more supplies and offer a full line of fresh products.

The owners of the new store also used a USDA Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) grant to offset the cost of installing energy-efficient refrigeration units.

While the construction of Halona Village Market helped to eliminate Zuni Pueblo’s food desert classification, its value to the community extends beyond the availability of its food supply.

Historically, Zuni Pueblo’s location featured a thriving, centralized local market. Since 1910, the village housed the area’s first and only market, which also served as the center of the community and a hub for business. But as the community grew, the original market proved too small to meet the community’s needs.

Aptly named, “Halona” in Zuni means “center market.” But this center market has restored more than just Zuni Pueblos’ center of community. It’s helped revitalize local commerce, food supply, and ultimately the quality of life for this rural community.

Rural Development is committed to helping improve the economy and quality of life in rural America—a mission exemplified in our work with this remote community in New Mexico.



Habitat and USDA Team Up to Create First-generation Homeowners in Southwest Oregon

Donavan and Deborah Watts thought that, like their parents, they would never own their own home. But they were tired of the leaky roof, the water pump that sounded like a jet engine, and the strict landlord who would not allow them to plant a garden in front of their rented manufactured home. They applied for a home loan, but were approved for an amount so small they couldn’t use it to buy a house of any size.

When Donavan noticed a flyer at his work for the Habitat for Humanity Partner Family program, where homebuyers can reduce the cost of a house by contributing their own sweat equity to its construction, they decided to apply.

The Junction City/Harrisburg/Monroe (JCHM) Habitat in the southern Willamette Valley accepted them into the program. Habitat acquired a property in Harrisburg and built a new home, while the Watts contributed 500 hours of work on the home’s construction.

Habitat then partnered with USDA Rural Development to help the Watts get a mortgage. They were approved for a low-interest loan for the at-cost value of the home with no down payment through USDA’s Single Family Housing Program. JCHM Habitat provided a second mortgage for the difference between the at-cost and appraisal value, but for each month the Watts make an on-time mortgage payment to USDA, Habitat will waive their second mortgage payment. As a result, the Watts can pay roughly the same to own a home as they did for their rental.

Donavan and Deborah moved into their new home in the fall of 2017, becoming the first members of their family to own the land they live on. And they are well positioned to succeed as homeowners. Habitat provided free financial education to help them continue to improve their finances; the skills they learned from building their home will help them maintain it for years to come; and Habitat is answering their questions along the way. “We’re here to help them succeed in the long term,” said Cindy Decker, Executive Director of JCHM Habitat.

Owning a home has another benefit that means a lot to Deborah. “I get to plant my very own garden!” she said.

These first-generation homeowners now have greater financial security and stability for the long-term, and their experience has made them engaged community members who are now helping others as Habitat volunteers.