The election highlighted deep divisions in this country, breaking down according to where one lives, what one looks like, how one sees his or her current job prospects, or preferences for what the country’s role is around the globe, and more.
Real and perceived lack of economic opportunity seemed to drive many voting decisions. Places where former manufacturing hubs and resource-based economies once ruled are now in the midst of a lengthy decline. The potential of change reigned in these places.
What wasn’t mentioned in the post-election commentary is that rural places have the ideas and the potential to transform themselves, as long as they have the right resources and an innovative approach.
On the federal level, we look toward how the new administration will prioritize the concerns of people in the Northern Forest. For years, we’ve enjoyed strong relationships with agencies such as the Department of Agriculture-Rural Development and the Forest Service, Economic Development Administration, and more. So now what?
For the Center, the work we do to build economic and community vitality while fostering sound forest stewardship remains preeminent. Ours is not a political movement; it’s fundamental work that needs to be done to help create viable business and job opportunities complementary with the landscape and the stewardship of its natural resources. We will forge relationships with the new appointees and are already making connections with people who may be in a position to inform the next administration’s decisions.
The long-term work we’re engaged in to benefit the people and communities of the Northern Forest is grounded in our core beliefs about the region and its potential. These beliefs guide our programs and mission delivery. We believe:
- A commitment to treat the land well, honor its many values, and steward it for future generations is essential to successful long-term community and economic development.
- Use and conservation of the region’s natural resources should directly benefit local communities.
- Empowered local voices and ideas will be the foundation of the region’s long-term vitality.
- Integrated approaches to economic, community and environmental issues are fundamental to bringing people together, reducing conflicts and accelerating change.
- Regional cooperation and learning is vital to addressing systemic rural challenges.
- Bold vision, leadership and risk-taking are needed to capitalize on emerging opportunities.
The analysts interpreted the votes of rural places as a message for the need to be heard, the need for job security and the desire for optimism. Revitalizing rural economies and communities will take time and continue to be incremental and long-term. And long-term sustainability is not up to outsiders to achieve.
So, I’ll say again: With innovative approaches and the right resources, rural America can transform itself. The ideas are there. The strategies are there. The energy is there. What we need is the partnership of the rest of America – the urban and suburban areas that depend on our rural landscapes and people for food, water, energy, fiber, recreation and much more, as well as the public sector – to put it all together.
As we advance partnerships across the region to secure positive outcomes – stronger wood products companies, increased use of modern wood heat, enhanced quality in tourism experiences, and the jobs and way of life in the Northern Forest that they support – we also promote how we do our work – and the embedded values and beliefs that guide us – to transcend the political wind of the moment and stay the course.
In the end, we’re only truly successful if we listen, engage, develop meaningful and lasting relationships, and move tangible projects. And if we do it with humility and kindness.