Source: Economic Research Service submitted to
Sponsoring Institution
National Institute of Food and Agriculture
Project Status
Funding Source
Reporting Frequency
Accession No.
Grant No.
Project No.
Proposal No.
Multistate No.
Program Code
Project Start Date
Feb 15, 2011
Project End Date
Feb 14, 2012
Grant Year
Project Director
Pender, J. L.
Recipient Organization
Economic Research Service
1800 M Street NW
Washington,DC 20036
Performing Department
Resource and Rural Economics Division
Non Technical Summary
We propose a national conference to improve understanding of the process of wealth creation in rural communities and how rural development policies and programs can most effectively contribute to rural prosperity through sustainable wealth creation. Secretary Vilsack has identified rural wealth creation as one of the top priorities of the Department of Agriculture and many initiatives are being undertaken by USDA and other government and non-government agencies to promote regional innovation and wealth creation. Rural development researchers and practitioners have in recent years argued that investing in a broad range of assets - including human, natural, and social capital as well as more traditional investments in physical and financial capital - is critical for long-term economic growth and prosperity in rural communities. Although this literature articulates principles and approaches to promote rural wealth creation and provides some anecdotal evidence in support of these, a systematic review is lacking of the available evidence on rural wealth creation and the effectiveness of rural development policies and programs in promoting it. The lessons drawn from such a review could prove highly valuable to policy-makers and development practitioners as they consider the best response to the economic challenges posed by the current recession and the longer-term economic problems and opportunities facing rural America. The conference will bring together researchers, policy makers and development practitioners to maximize learning from different perspectives and the potential impacts of the knowledge gained.
Animal Health Component
Research Effort Categories

Knowledge Area (KA)Subject of Investigation (SOI)Field of Science (FOS)Percent
Goals / Objectives
The conference aims to improve understanding of the process of wealth creation in rural communities and how rural development policies and programs can most effectively contribute to rural prosperity through sustainable wealth creation. The specific objectives for the conference focus on improving knowledge in five areas: (a) What wealth is, how it affects the long-term economic trajectory of rural communities, and how it can be created without damaging natural, human, intellectual or other resources; (b) How to measure wealth creation across America's diverse rural communities; (c) How local economic, social, and institutional contexts affect the wealth creation process in rural communities and how these are conditioned by policy at all levels; (d) How rural development policies and programs can effectively promote wealth creation in different rural contexts, leading to improved economic, social and environmental well-being, including structures that contribute to rural ownership and control of rural wealth; and (e) How rural policies and programs can support regional approaches that integrate rural, urban and suburban areas and that result in investment in rural wealth creation that sticks in rural areas and generates regional benefits. The conference will bring together researchers, policy makers and development practitioners to maximize learning from different perspectives and the potential impacts of the knowledge gained. The outputs will include an edited book synthesizing the available evidence on rural wealth creation using a common conceptual framework and drawing implications for policies, programs and research needs, as well as journal articles and shorter policy briefs summarizing the main findings and implications.
Project Methods
The conference will be planned and organized by an organizing committee including representatives of the Economic Research Service, Oregon State University, the Rural Policy Research Institute, Louisiana State University Agricultural Center, the Ford Foundation, and Yellow Wood Associates. A conceptual framework on rural wealth creation has been developed and will be used as an organizing framework for the conference. This framework illustrates that the economic decisions of local actors in rural areas are conditioned by their endowments of different types of wealth and the economic, institutional and policy context; leading to economic, social and environmental outcomes affecting the well-being of the community; and affecting future wealth endowments. The framework emphasizes that local endowments and contexts can have a large influence on the outcomes of rural development policies and programs, and that sustainable rural development requires a long term process of investment in an appropriate portfolio of assets by public and private actors. The papers presented in the conference will illuminate the conceptual framework and its components, and apply it to empirical studies of the relationships among the components; the impacts of such decisions on economic, social and environmental outcomes and changes in wealth over time in particular contexts; or the influence of decisions and outcomes on changes in the local context. The goal is not to draw one-size-fits-all conclusions, but to derive lessons that apply in common types of contexts. The conference will include presentations by conference organizers, invited speakers, and papers submitted in response to a call for papers. Each paper will have a discussant to stimulate discussion after each set of presentations, followed by questions and comments from all participants. In addition, there will be interactive workshop style discussions of each major topic, involving development practitioners and policy makers as well as researchers, to discuss how the concepts and approaches presented in the papers can be improved and applied to different rural contexts. Announcement of the conference and the call for papers will be widespread, using the websites of the organizing committee members' institutions and websites and commonly used e-mail listserves on rural development topics. Invitations to representatives of key organizations will be sent to encourage participation. Grant funds will be used to sponsor selected papers from contributors outside the District of Columbia metropolitan area, especially rural development professionals with substantial experience in local wealth creation efforts. To ensure high quality papers and presentations, a selection committee will be established to select submitted abstracts for the conference. The conference will combine these selected papers with invited papers and presentations to yield a balance between empirical research, case studies, and policy perspectives.

Progress 02/15/11 to 02/14/12

OUTPUTS: 1. The National Conference on Rural Wealth Creation was held at the Dupont Hotel in Washington, D.C. on October 3-5, 2011, co-convened by ERS and the Ford Foundation. Nearly 170 rural development practitioners, researchers, policy makers, and others from all regions of the United States participated (invited from more than 300 applicants). Undersecretary Woteki welcomed the participants and Secretary Vilsack gave the keynote address. The conference included a range of activities and opportunities to foster dialog and learning, including roundtable discussions during each session; a networking reception after the first day; two breakout sessions organized by regions and topical themes; inclusion of a practitioner, researcher and policy maker's perspective in each breakout session; a wealth creation idea marketplace in which participants discussed posters or laptop presentations; an open space period for knowledge exchanges; a wealth creation "story corps" in which interested participants were videotaped telling their stories about wealth creation experiences; completion of Harvest Reports by all participants, used by three panels of Active Listeners to synthesize key findings from the conference, which were discussed and sharpened by all participants on the final day of the conference. All conference materials were posted on the conference website ( before or during the conference. 2. Conference participants met with the White House Rural Council during a listening session held immediately after the conference. The key findings were presented to the Council, and then smaller groups met with Council members to discuss rural issues in particular regions. 3. The conference launched a National Community of Practice on Wealth Creation and Rural Livelihoods (WCRL), which is using the conference website to host a blog, provide resource materials, hold webinars and discussion forums, and provide other means to expand outreach and mutual learning about rural wealth creation. There are now more than 660 members of this community. The Ford Foundation is providing financial support for the website, and John Pender, the ERS project leader for the wealth creation conference, participates in the organizing committee. ERS researchers are regular contributors of materials posted on the website. John Pender will present a webinar in May 2012 to this community on the conceptual framework for rural wealth creation that ERS has developed. 4. Three of the members of the organizing committee for the conference - John Pender of ERS, Bruce Weber of Oregon State University, and Wayne Fawbush of the Ford Foundation - co-edited a thematic set of papers on rural wealth creation for the Agricultural and Applied Economics Association's (AAEA) magazine Choices, which were published in April 2012. This set of articles was based on some of the best research on wealth creation being conducted by conference participants. A webinar based on this set of articles is planned for June 2012, sponsored by the Council on Food, Agriculture, and Resource Economics. 5. Pender and three other conference organizers are co-editing a book on rural wealth creation. PARTICIPANTS: In preparation for the National Conference on Rural Wealth Creation, a conference organizing committee was formed, consisting of: John Pender and Alexander Marre, Economic Research Service; Wayne Fawbush, Ford Foundation; Shanna Ratner, Yellow Wood Associates; Bruce Weber, Oregon State University; Tom Johnson, University of Missouri; J. Matthew Fannin, Louisiana State University; and Janet Topolsky and John Molinaro, Aspen Institute. The Ford Foundation co-convened the conference, with ERS, and contributed funds to hire the Aspen Institute to assist with conference planning and logistics, contribute to the cost of the hotel venue, and provide financial assistance to some participants who otherwise could not attend the conference. ERS funds (supported by NIFA) were also used to provide assistance to supported participants (hotel room costs) and to support the costs of catering the event. John Pender was the overall leader of the conference, initiating the idea, writing the NIFA proposal, and providing intellectual leadership. Alexander Marre participated in all planning and organizing efforts of the organizing committee, and led some of the efforts to publicize the event via ERS's website and other outlets. Other ERS staff members contributed to the efforts to publicize the event via the ERS website. The other members of the conference organizing committee also contributed to all planning decisions and to publicizing the conference. TARGET AUDIENCES: The target audience for the conference included rural and community development practitioners working in the government, non-profit sector and private businesses at all levels (Federal, State, regional, local); researchers and policy makers dealing with these issues at all levels; funders and intermediaries involved in these issues at all levels; and other interested parties (e.g., media representatives). In response to the call for applications to the conference, which was widely disseminated to these communities through various means, more than 300 people applied. Because of financial and space constraints, the organizing committee was able to invite only about 170 participants. The selection of participants was based on consideration of who could contribute most to the conference objectives, based on their proposed contributions in the application; and ensuring representation of the diverse communities included in the target audience, of different regions, and of minority groups. Although the conference unfortunately could not accommodate all of the interested people, we sought to involve interested non-attendees by posting all conference materials on the conference website and having several people at the conference blogging and tweeting about the discussions. After the conference, the wider community interested in rural wealth creation has been able to participate by joining the National Community of Practice website, which now has more than 660 members. Learning and networking opportunities such as webinars and discussion groups are taking place via this website. PROJECT MODIFICATIONS: The most important change in the conference plan that occurred after project approval by NIFA was the Ford Foundation's decision to provide financial support and co-convene the conference. This greatly increased the ability of the conference to involve other communities outside of the research community, and raised the visibility of the conference. Ford's support of the Aspen Institute to assist in conference planning, logistics and outreach was particularly important in this regard.

The immediate outcomes of the conference include 1) increased understanding among the participants about wealth creation concepts and approaches; 2) greater dialog and awareness among different communities (e.g., rural development practitioners, researchers, policy makers, funders, intermediaries) of each others' activities and perspectives; 3) identification of issues requiring further dialog, research, and mutual learning; and 4) a commitment of participants to follow up on these issues through the National Community of Practice (NCP). Evidence that the conference contributed to increased understanding and awareness among the participants includes responses to the evaluation survey that the Aspen Institute conducted after the conference (available at 6GV22GZZV). 76 conference participants responded to the survey, with 56% of respondents rating the conference as excellent, 38% good, and 6% fair. Responding to a question about what they liked best about the conference, several respondents highlighted new knowledge or insights that they had learned. For example, one responded stated: "I have never learned as much at a conference as at this one." Another said that the conference "has stimulated me to follow up on a number of thought-provoking questions and ideas that have come about as a result of conversations and discussions." Many respondents highlighted the value of interacting with people that they don't normally interact with. Despite this, many noted the need for continued dialog (particularly between researchers and practitioners) and for concrete follow up actions enabling these communities to work together better. The conference discussions identified several specific ideas to facilitate this, including having researchers prepare short briefs on what is known about particular wealth creation issues; developing a clearinghouse for practitioners and researchers to identify key areas for applied research and mutual interest in pursuing it; and the need for foundations, governments and others to invest in partnerships and capacity building to enable continued progress in rural wealth creation. Some of these ideas are already being implemented through the NCP. For example, webinars and discussion groups focusing on particular wealth creation issues are being formed, and these offer a way for practitioners and researchers to continue mutual learning and identify collaboration opportunities. The Ford Foundation is financially supporting the development and operation of the NCP, and plans to support a follow up conference within the next year. ERS researchers are contributing resource materials and commentary to the website blog, and are leading at least one webinar. It is too early to demonstrate longer term outcomes and impacts from these efforts, but the improved dialog and learning among the different communities represented at the conference may ultimately lead to a stronger conceptual and evidence base to support rural development policies and programs, contributing to more effective efforts to promote sustainable and widely shared rural prosperity.


  • Bruce Weber and Yong Chen. "Federal Forest Policy and Community Prosperity in the Pacific Northwest", Choices, April, 2012. Available at: wealth-creation/federal-forest-policy-and-community-prosperity-in-the -pacific-northwest-
  • J. Matthew Fannin and Joshua Detre. "Red Light Ahead: Preparing Local Governments Financially for the Next Disaster", Choices, April, 2012. Available at: wealth-creation/red-light-ahead-preparing-local-governments-financial ly-for-the-next-disaster
  • John Pender, Bruce Weber, and Wayne Fawbush. "Theme Overview: Rural Wealth Creation", Choices, April, 2012. Available at: wealth-creation/theme-overview-rural-wealth-creation
  • Deborah Markley and Sarah Low. "Wealth, Entrepreneurship, and Rural Livelihoods", Choices, April, 2012. Available at: wealth-creation/wealth-entrepreneurship-and-rural-livelihoods
  • Corinne Valdivia, Stephen Jeanetta, Lisa Flores, Alejandro Morales, and Domingo Martinez. "Latino/a Wealth and Livelihood Strategies in Rural Midwestern Communities", Choices, April, 2012. Available at: wealth-creation/latinoa-wealth-and-livelihood-strategies-in-rural-mid western-communities