The Aspen Institute Community Strategies Group (CSG) just released its final report on “Rural Development Hubs” as effective community and economic development partners in rural America. Rob Aspen InstituteAs part of its research for Rural Development Hubs: Strengthening America’s Rural Innovation Infrastructure, Aspen CSG interviewed the Northern Forest Center and other members of the Rural Development Innovation group, which the Center helps lead.

The report focuses on the role of intermediaries “doing development differently” in rural America. Rural Development Hubs like the Center are key players in advancing an asset-based and inclusive wealth-building approach to rural community and economic development in this country.

The Northern Forest Center and the U.S. Endowment for Forestry & Communities will be working with the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA) to guide the strategic investment of $3 million in the Northern Forest over the next four years. forest product manufacturing copyThe EDA announced the cooperative agreement Sept. 28, 2018.

The bulk of the funds will support specific projects to grow markets for wood products from the region and will be matched with equivalent investment from other sources.

“The Northern Forest congressional delegation has secured a unique opportunity that will invest in growing markets for the products and services from well managed forests,” said Joe Short, vice president of the Northern Forest Center. He said that projects will be identified through market analysis and engagement with a broad range of stakeholders. “We look forward to working with EDA, the U.S. Endowment and partners across the region to leverage these resources for the benefit of forest-based businesses in the Northern Forest,” said Short.

On behalf of the Northern Border Regional Commission, the Center brought together public and private funders from across the region to take part in a day-long forum on the regional forest economy. More than 80 people attended, representing six federal agencies, 12 foundations, and seven Congressional offices, plus a variety of state and community partners. 

The Border Commission contracted the Center to develop and facilitate the event, with the goals of helping participants:

Joe Short facilitates NBRC Forum on Forest Economy crpd

    • understand the economic status and trends of core regional forest sectors and socio-demographic trends in forest-based communities;
    • learn about promising innovation and investment strategies for strengthening the forest economy and communities that depend on it; and
    • network with other public and private funders, with an eye toward opportunities for collaboration and co-investment.

Joe Presents to Ag Committee Staff DC 2017

The federal budget and the Farm Bill support programs that provide important services for and investment in the Northern Forest. This year Congress is addressing the Farm Bill, which typically renews every five years, and recently approved a new federal budget and Omnibus spending bill. Through our public policy program and leadership of a national network of rural interests, the Center has advocated for elements of both bills to serve the region.

The federal Omnibus spending bill passed in March contained a lot of good news for programs that are important to the Northern Forest:

  • $15 million for the Northern Border Regional Commission (up from $10 million), including $3 million for initiatives that seek to address the decline in forest-based economies throughout the region;
  • $3 million for the Economic Development Administration to collaborate with the Northern Border Regional Commission to support the development of markets for wood products;
  • $600 million for rural broadband;
  • Funding for the Community Forest Program doubled to $4 million. This program has supported the creation of Community Forests in Easton/Sugar Hill/Franconia/Landaff, NH; Barre, VT; and Milan, NH.
  • Sustained funding for many USDA Rural Development programs, which had been targeted for elimination.
  • A “fire fix,” beginning in federal fiscal year 2020, that is intended to ensure stable and responsible funding for federal firefighting activities without eroding budgets that support other parts of the Forest Service mission (such as forest stewardship and state and private forestry.
  • An increase in Forest Legacy program funding by $4.65 million, which will help protect productive forestland from development or other non-forest uses.