Local First Arizona Foundation’s 2016 Rural Policy Forum in Pinetop-Lakeside gave attendees a true taste of Arizona. Over 270 attendees traveled to 6,800 feet to the stunning White Mountains for an opportunity to gather, network, learn and share about rural economic development. The crisp, cool mountain air and the smell of coniferous woods and pine trees was a welcomed change to the often brutal August heat of other Arizona communities. The picturesque backdrop and amazing, welcoming community were both compliments to the very robust, energetic Forum. Local First Arizona Foundation’s founder and director, Kimber Lanning, kicked off the annual Forum with a full day tour of north eastern communities in and around Pinetop-Lakeside. Attended by the early arrivals and members of the National Rural Development Partnership representing Illinois, Vermont, Maryland, and Michigan among others, the tour captured a glimpse of “rural” only found in Arizona, highlighting the area’s business community, diverse culture and history, as well as some new, emerging industries.
The group was introduced to the White Mountain Stewardship Project, a 10-year contract that developed a forest restoration program and helped build a small wood products sector key to the area economy. The group viewed the manufacturing systems of several companies in this sector including Forest Energy Corporation, NOVA Power, Arizona Structural Laminators, and Arizona Log and Timberworks, who are all using forest fire bi products to increase employment opportunities, build regional partnerships, and use creative business strategies around wood product manufacturing and sales. Presentations from plant managers highlighted the benefits to communities and the ongoing policy and operational challenges that the industry faces.
The tour ended at the Sunrise Ski Area, where the White Mountain Apache Tribe has created an incredible outdoor entertainment center to help endure low snow seasons and sustain a year round business. The Tribe has been instrumental in making Pinetop Lakeside a destination and their model can be used by other destination communities.
Presentations and workshops commenced the next day at St. Joseph Community Center, including over 60 dynamic speakers over two days. Breakout sessions, on topics including advocacy, water, rural marketing, tourism, education and workforce development to name a few, allowed attendees to select from a wide range of important issues related to rural economic development and addressed both successes and challenges faced by rural communities throughout the state. The diversity of topics kept conversations lively and engagement from participants at a premium.
Two powerhouse keynote speakers engaged the group with their expertise and personal connections to rural issues and how to have the greatest impact. Don Macke is the Co-Founder and Co-Director of the Center for Rural Entrepreneurship and Liz Sosa is the Founder of Public Square Communities. Both Sosa and Macke brought years of first hand experience and their passion for successful rural community development to the table.
The combined result of this year’s Forum was no less than an inspired, motivated, driven group of our state’s most important economic development workforce, from towns and cities, nonprofits, business owners, and community centers all across rural Arizona and beyond. These folks returned to their communities with tools and resources and the support of a growing network of Arizona business advocates and leaders working to create healthy local economies.
Local First Arizona Foundation continues to push leaders, advocates, business owners, and industries in a way that is categorically changing the way we look at economic development. Join the movement with our sister organization Local First Arizona. Look for more information on Local First Arizona Foundation’s 2017 Rural Policy Forum which is sure to be hosted in yet another unforgettable rural destination in our great state.