In order to get a better understanding of what Tennessee’s rural communities are facing and how we can help, TNECD’s Assistant Commissioner of Rural Development, Amy New, is hitting the road and listening.

Through a rural development listening tour, New is touching all corners of the state, visiting with everyone from local mayors, economic development professionals, educators and employers, to people who live in these communities.

New’s listening tour began in May, with a total of 18 listening sessions taking place over the span of three weeks. So far, she’s had fourteen with over 125 participants statewide. The result? Dozens and dozens of pages of feedback.  

“We’re holding these listening sessions so we can direct our resources, technical assistance and financial resources, in the right areas by getting stakeholder input,” New said. “We have a menu of programs within rural development already, so we’re doing our due diligence to see if we need to change anything or put additional resources out there.”

One of the themes New has heard consistently is the appreciation of sharing information between all the communities.

“It’s eye-opening to hear from others,” New explained. “A lot of examples are being shared, like example programs and initiatives, and that’s helpful for everyone to hear.”

Once the tour is completed, a rural development task force will be identified, bringing together a wide array of partners from agriculture, tourism, transportation, education, health, financial institutions and economic development. The task force will focus its mission on driving local, state and federal partnerships and stakeholders to continuously improve education, entrepreneurial opportunities, economic development site inventory and digital infrastructure to build stronger Tennessee communities.

New, along with the rural development task force, will work together to develop new programs aimed at helping communities in areas where they have indicated they need it most.

“That’s the beauty of listening before we act,” New added. “With this rural development task force, we are bringing all rural economic development functions to the table to collaborate in order to maximize our existing resources, rather than creating a new layer.”

New hopes to present new initiatives at the 2015 Governor’s Conference on Economic and Community Development, which is being held October 13-14 at the Renaissance Hotel in downtown Nashville.

“There will be action items that come out of this tour, and we will be excited to announce them in the fall,” New said. “I think the next step after that will be an action tour following the Governor’s Conference so we can make sure every community is on board and fully understands what it is we’re doing.”

New added, “Our rural communities are such a vital part of our state’s identity and economic and community development, and we are so excited to take what we learn and turn it into meaningful change.”

The rural development listening tour wraps up Friday June 12, in Greeneville. 

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