2015 Rural Policy Forum Inspires Collaboration Across Arizona

Earlier this month, about 200 individuals representing every county in Arizona descended on Clarkdale, Arizona, for the 9th Annual Arizona Rural Policy Forum. This annual forum offers a venue for connecting rural economic development professionals, nonprofits, community leaders, business owners, and other rural stakeholders who are interested in sustaining rural communities.

Welcome to Clarkdale

Photos of Jerome, AZ reclamation by Freeport McMoRan, begun 10/07.

This year, we ventured north to the Verde Valley, specifically to the small town of Clarkdale, to host the 2015 Forum. Like many of Arizona's rural towns, Clarkdale has its roots in mining. Founded in 1912 as the first planned model town to house workers from the copper mines in Jerome and their families, Clarkdale operated as a company smelter town until 1953. Today, only 10 squares miles in size with about 4,100 residents, Clarkdale honors its past with three museums: the acclaimed Arizona Copper Art Museum, the John Bell Museum at the Verde Canyon Railroad and the Clarkdale Historical Society and Museum. Clarkdale's large historic district boasts many preserved and revitalized homes and buildings keeping the original spirit of Clarkdale alive.

Verde Valley Railroad

Along with regular Forum sessions and speakers, we planned several events that allowed attendees the opportunity to experience Clarkdale and the Verde Valley for all it has to offer. Ahead of the conference, we planned a four-hour wilderness adventure aboard the Verde Canyon Railroad. "Clarkdale and Jerome were great to visit and explore, places I had never been before. The train ride was fantastic," commented one attendee. 

Later that evening, we enjoyed a catered dinner at the acclaimed Copper Art Museum catered by several local businesses: Four Eight Wineworks, Main Street Cafe & Pizzeria, Su Casa, and Violette's Fine Pastries. The food was delicious and guests enjoyed seeing the treasures hosted at the Copper Art Museum. The next night, guests enjoyed a special dinner at Blazin' M Ranch. Guests chatted about the day's earlier activities at the Forum, and enjoyed the smooth harmonies and rip-roarin’ comedy of the Blazin’ M Cowboys.

Forum attendees had a plethora of nice things to say about their experience in Clarkdale:

"Clarkdale is an inspiration, I met so many active and engaged people who are working and succeeding at making Clarkdale great."

"Beautiful, [Clarkdale is a] new destination for quick family getaways."

"A jewel - I've been here before but just driving through. Had time to really explore this time & really enjoyed it."

Learning From Each Other

IMG_4246This year's Rural Policy Forum consisted of 2 full days of workshops, speakers, breakout sessions, and more. Over 50 speakers from Arizona and several national leaders in rural economic development joined us in Clarkdale to share successes and best practices. One of the most inspiring things was witnessing attendees learning from fellow Arizonans, whether they were hearing form a scheduled speaker or talking one-on-one with each other during breaks.

Three large themes stood out during this year's Forum:

1. New Ways to Think about Economic Development

ZOE_0021Throughout the Forum, we discussed non-traditional ideas that would lead to economic development opportunities for rural areas. One session featured speakers from different communities who have leveraged arts and culture to revitalize their towns. We discovered that supporting a thriving arts scene in any town has many benefits that lead to economic drivers, including retaining more young people, driving tourism, attracting higher wage jobs, and preserving older buildings. Additionally, we talked about how rural communities can use their assets to create unique events and tourism spots to encourage out-of-towners to spend tourism dollars in their towns.

Got completely inspired by the arts session!

2. Building Wealth and Identifying Funding Sources

IMG_4259Consistent funding is important for sustainable longevity in any community, and at the Rural Policy Forum we explored the ways rural communities can build wealth for themselves. We hosted a roundtable discussion with nearly all of the rural funders in Arizona so that rural nonprofits could find where the best fit is to apply for funding. We also talked about the transfer of wealth in rural communities and the steps they can take to keep those dollars circulating in their own towns. Through understanding these strategies, Arizona's rural communities will thrive.

Always relevant timely & actionable advice, tips and resources that will benefit our nonprofit, retail & civic service interests.

3. Collaboration is Key

IMG_4256The common theme that tied everything together at the forum was collaboration. By working together, we can accomplish more and build prosperity for all of Arizona's rural communities. Clarkdale Mayor Doug Von Gausig, also with the Verde River Institute, told an inspiring story of how towns, community groups, and Arizona State Parks came together to clean up the Verde River in an effort to clean up their local economy. This collaborative effort has led the Verde River to become a thriving outdoor recreational tourism attraction, injecting tourism dollars into the local economy and benefiting all communities involved.

Not liked - LOVED the theme of collaboration!

Overall, the 9th Annual Rural Policy Forum was a huge success. A special thanks to all of the attendees, speakers, the Town of Clarkdale, and all of our sponsors, especially the Marley Foundation and the Arizona Community Foundation, for their support of this important event. To stay updated on the latest events and news from the Arizona Rural Development Council, and to be the first to know about next year's event, sign up for email updates by clicking here.