Rural Economic Development, Support, and Innovation Networks

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Rural Economic Development, Support, and Innovation Networks

Key Takeaways

  • The Aspen Institute has developed a Rural Development Hubs Report that details the context and the why for rural development hubs, as well as proffering a path to building a better rural development ecosystem.
  • Since inception, Fahe has invested $1.05 billion, via its membership and partners in the community, and has also generated $1.6 billion in finance.
  • NACDC is a part of a Native-owned and operated community development financial network that also includes the Native American Bancorporation and the Native American Bank, NA (NABNA).


Rural Development Initiatives

  • The Rural Development Initiative (RDI) is a place-based organization working in communities in the Pacific Northwest of the United States.
  • The Group offers leadership programs, rural economic vitality programs, and civic engagement programs and offers its programs in rural Oregon, Washington, and Idaho.
  • An Impact Snapshot for Q2 2021 can be accessed at this link, and the 2020 Annual Report can be accessed at this link. The group website can be accessed at this link.
  • This group was included because of its geographical reach and based on the data contained in the impact reports linked above.


  • Fahe is a network of over 50 nonprofits working in the Appalachian sections of Alabama, Kentucky, Maryland, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia.
  • Among the services offered by Fahe are mortgage lending, loan servicing, community lending services, strategic programs, and networking services.
  • Fahe has been included on this list because it has been operational since 1980 and to date has invested $1.05 billion, via its membership and partners in the community, and has also generated $1.6 billion in finance.
  • Fahe's website can be accessed from this link.

NACDC Financial Services

  • NACDC Financial Services was established in 2010. Operating under the umbrella of the Native American Community Development Corporation (NACDC), NACDC Financial Services is a certified Community Development Financial Institution.
  • Among the programs offered at training and technical assistance, celebrating Native plains artists, providing business grants and agricultural resources, a mini-bank program and lines of credit for artists.
  • This organization has been included in this list because it operates as part of a network and itself is a network. In 2020 NACDC provided 270 loans valued at $1.439 billion. Annual reports can be accessed from this link and the website can be accessed from this link.

Communities Unlimited

  • Communities Unlimited operates in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Tennessee working towards making opportunities available for rural communities.
  • In 2020, Communities Unlimited served 606 communities and impacted just under 1 million persons with its services. Projects by mission focus amounted to 812 in the following areas: environmental (450), entrepreneurship (165), lending (48), healthy foods (81), community sustainability (14), and GIS (54).
  • Among the services provided are loans as well as a number of other services under the umbrellas of Healthy Communities, Healthy Business, and Healthy Families.
  • This organization was selected for this list because of its geographic reach and the services that it provides within the network. Its website can be accessed at this link.

Northern Initiatives

  • A Community Development Financial Institution, Northern Initiatives provides loans and business services to entrepreneurs and small business owners in Michigan and Wisconsin.
  • According to the group website, since 1994, it has helped retain or create over 6,000 jobs from providing 1,323 loans totaling $79 million. In 2020, these loans were disbursed to women (39%), veterans (11%), and minority owned businesses (12%). In 2020, 33% of Northern Initiatives customers were startups.
  • Although not strictly speaking a network on its own, Northern Initiatives was included on this list because of the range of non-loan services offered to support entrepreneurship and the locations in which it offers these services. The group is also an affiliate of the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center (MMTC). The website can be accessed at this link.

NC Rural Center

  • The NC Rural Center works to "develop, promote, and implement" economic strategies targeted at improving the quality of life for persons living in North Carolina's 80 rural counties.
  • This Rural Center operates under four broad thematic areas: engagement, leadership, lending, and advocacy and research.
  • According to the 2019-2020 Impact Report, the NC Rural Center leveraged $122 million in private funds, supported 849 small businesses in North Carolina, made over $52 million in investments, provided education and engagement services to 3,500 rural leaders and advocates, and had over 20,000 contact or training hours in rural communities.
  • This organization was selected for this list because it provides networking services at the annual NC Rural Assembly for community members, entrepreneurs, rural advocates, and leaders. There were over 400 participants at the 2019 edition. The NC Rural Center website can be accessed at this link.

NetWork Kansas

  • NetWork Kansas is a portal intended to connect small business owners and entrepreneurs with supportive resources. The group partners with business development organizations and educational institutions to work with entrepreneurs and small business owners exhibiting the potential to succeed.
  • Established in 2006, NetWork Kansas currently offers users the ability to connect with over 500 partners in Kansas. Programs available to users include the Growing Rural Business program, the Destination Business Bootcamp, the Ice House Entrepreneurship Program, and the Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge Series.
  • In 2020 NetWork Kansas provided 514 loans valued at $10.222 million. The loans were provided to companies operating in the services (48%), retail (28%), restaurant (19%), and manufacturing (5%) industries.
  • The NetWork Kansas website can be accessed at this link.

E2 Entrepreneurial Ecosystems

  • E2 Entrepreneurial Ecosystems is an organization that assists communities and regions with connecting, sharing, and learning best practices for the creation and longevity of entrepreneurial ecosystems in North America.
  • Services offered include mentoring, analytics support, e2 University, and fostering entrepreneurship with partners such as the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, SourceLink, Kauffman Foundation, Edward Lowe Foundation, and NetWork Kansas.
  • The National e2 Practitioners Network employs economic development practitioner and consultant to assist with building the entrepreneurial ecosystem across North America.
  • The e2 Entrepreneurial Ecosystems website can be accessed at this link.

The Community Caring Collective

  • The Community Caring Collective seeks to nurture and sustain collaboration in the expansion of resources in Washington County, Maine. From its partnership with over 40 other organizations the Collective works to develop place-based programming targeted at increasing the hope, health, and well-being of its community.
  • Core programs offered coder early childhood, the Hope Fund, technical assistance, and training. Developing programs include mentor/friends, Dream Fund, and Thriving in Place. Incubated programs include Bridging and Family Future Downeast.
  • The website can be accessed at this link.


  • Incourage is a community development organization that seeks to build upon community assets from place-based philanthropy. It partners with target communities and other organizations to help mould communities, and to provide social and financial resources to foster community growth.
  • Incourage works with the following partners to foster innovation within its communities: Ford Foundation, ThoughtBridge, Knight Foundation, MIT Center for Civic Media, the National Fund for Workforce Solutions, the USDA, Artplace, Network Impact, and Avivar Capital.
  • Under the economic growth rubric, Incourage has the Manufacturing Partnership CEO Peer Council, providing training and talent assessment services to regional employers and local workers, and a service provider network that provided networking opportunities for workers with peers across systems. A full list of ways the organization has impacted its community can be accessed in the Incourage Impact: Economic Growth document.
  • The Incourage website can be accessed at this link.

Research Strategy

For this research on key players in rural economic development, support, and innovation networks, we leveraged the most reputable sources of information that were available in the public domain, including the USDA Rural Development Office, the US Treasury Department, the US Department of Commerce, the Small Business Administration, and the Aspen Institute.

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