This April Minnesota Housing Partnership will lead a team of experts through the design phase of "Competitive Communities," a new, national approach to helping rural areas respond to the challenges they face.
Both in areas facing economic hardship due to declining populations and in thriving areas where businesses are expanding, rural communities often do not have an organized way to respond to critical community conditions. Competitive Communities aims to deliver a support package of services and financial resources that will help communities take charge of their destinies.
Through Competitive Communities, communities or rural regions will engage in a fast-paced planning process to draw out priority strategies for building an area's economic strength and addressing key quality of life issues. This process evaluates a community's human and institutional capacity to make the needed change. Once plans are identified, the MHP team will provide ongoing financial and technical assistance that will lead to a more competitive region, but also to one that is equitable and healthier.
Development of the Competitive Communities model will be coordinated by Mariia Zimmerman, founder and principal of the Virginia-based consulting firm MZ Strategies LLC. Zimmerman brings a wealth of national and rural experience, having recently served as Deputy Director and rural expert for HUD's Office of Sustainable Housing and Communities.
Competitive Communities draws from the experience MHP gained from leading a national technical assistance consortium for HUD's Sustainable Communities program. MHP and its partners assisted rural and tribal grantees in undertaking and implementing regional plans that improved local economic competiveness while addressing housing, infrastructure, recreation and other community needs.
The Competitive Communities model will integrate the multi-faceted development expertise of the MHP consortium with the community planning process of the Idaho firm Building Communities. Building Communities is nationally recognized for creating a planning approach that engages rural community leaders and quickly gets at a community's economic potential and capacity for achieving its goals.
MHP consortium members participating in the development of the Competitive Communities model include: Joni Foster, Community Development Director for Rural Community Assistance Corporation (California); Dr. Florine Raitano, CEO of Rural Development Specialists LLC (Colorado); Dr. Ralph Lippman, Executive Director of California Community Economic Development Association; and Deb Martin, Executive Director of Great Lakes Region Community Action Program (Ohio).
The planning work for Competitive Communities is supported through a contract with Northwest Area Foundation as part of the foundation's exploration of regional collaborative approaches to revitalizing rural America.