Outlook from Idaho | The San Francisco Fed

October 31, 2022

In late September, the San Francisco Fed teamed up with the Idaho Department of Commerce, Idaho Rural Partnership, Idaho Hispanic Foundation, and USDA Rural Development Idaho to host the Idaho Rural Success Summit in Twin Falls, Idaho. The event – the idea of ​​Leilani Barnett, SF Fed’s Senior Community Development Manager, and Rudy Soto, Idaho USDA Executive Director of Rural Development – was designed to showcase successful examples of rural community development and foster networking and information sharing opportunities. Leilani told us about the highlights of the event and her hopes for further cross-sector collaboration in the state.

Leilani Barnett of SF Fed (second from right) with the leaders of the Idaho Rural Success Summit.
Leilani Barnett of SF Fed (second from right) with the leaders of the Idaho Rural Success Summit.

Can you tell us about the Idaho Rural Success Summit?

SF Fed co-hosted the Idaho Rural Success Summit in Twin Falls on September 27 in partnership with USDA, the Idaho Hispanic Foundation, the Idaho State Chamber of Commerce, and the Idaho Women’s Business Development Center.

The summit was inspired in part by a book recently published by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis in partnership with the Federal Reserve Board of Governors: Investing in Rural Wellbeing (available for free download from website). The meeting brought together professionals from various sectors as well as community leaders to learn about effective strategies and approaches to support the development of rural communities. Some of the industries represented included agriculture, housing, economic development and health.

Participants were from non-profit organizations; chambers of commerce; tribal organizations; federal, state, and local government agencies; Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs); and more.

Many Rural Success Stories were made available that covered a range of topics including:

  • Childcare and pre-school education
  • Healthcare
  • Development of minority business
  • Micro loans for small businesses
  • Infrastructure and broadband development
  • Cheap apartments
  • Revitalization of Śródmieście
  • Outdoor tourism as economic development
  • Internship programs
  • Adolescents’ access to healthy food and exercise

Andrew Dumont of the Federal Reserve Board of Governors led a panel on some of the topics in his book on rural well-being.
Andrew Dumont of the Federal Reserve Board of Governors led a panel on some of the topics in his book on rural well-being.

Why is rural community development in the spotlight?

We know from research and listening to communities that the great changes we face as a society – such as pandemic, inflation, and climate risk – affect rural communities differently than they do in urban or peri-urban areas. Each rural community has specific challenges and opportunities that are unique to it. Learning about how low and middle income businesses and people are doing in our rural communities is important to the Federal Reserve’s work in promoting a healthy and sustainable economy and supporting the country’s financial and payment systems.

Why do you think this event is so important?

Working in silos can be easy for all of us. However, to be successful at the highest level and to be inclusive, so that everyone in the community can participate in that success, we need to collaborate, work across sectors, and share resources and lessons learned. The pandemic has allowed us to work together virtually, but there is still something unique about gathering in person, which allows for more relationship building, creativity and bonding. These are all ingredients for building successful communities.

Between the panels, participants visited the stands at the Community Development Resource Fair.
Between the panels, participants visited the stands at the Community Development Resource Fair.

What are some of your most important lessons from the Summit?

My favorite part was the lightning fast conversations. A dozen or so people shared their success story from their rural community and the way they did it within 10 minutes each.

One conversation that really stuck with me was that of Karen Fitzgerald with the Lincoln Idaho County Youth Commission. She told a story of how she and other moms in her community realized that they did not have satisfactory childcare options after school. Over the course of 18 months, these mothers came together to raise approximately $ 1.3 million in grants and donations to purchase the building, pay for staff and programs, and find ways to serve the children of Lincoln County. Then they also opened a kindergarten and plan to create a nursery as soon as possible.

Karen shared that none of the team members who created the extracurricular and preschool curriculum had any experience with it, but they got together, asked lots of different people and organizations, and tried to find successful models to replicate. They did not let their initial lack of knowledge bother them, and thus they learned a lot. At least some of their success came from the social capital they had in their rural community, which is often a strength of rural communities. For me, it was an inspiring story about how community development work can be successfully done when people are willing to take initiative, show leadership and collaborate.

What were the overarching messages from these stories?

One of the key lessons to be learned from these stories is that rural communities have high social capital, as I mentioned earlier. Many people know and rely on each other in different ways – there is no anonymity of living in a big city. Using this social capital to expand opportunities in rural areas can be very effective, but it requires a purpose.

Leadership is also essential. There was a brave leader in all the stories. Many of the stories were about people who did not have all the resources or knowledge, but who courageously acted. Not all of us are bold enough to take risks as some of these leaders, but we can support these community leaders. Success requires many different skills and strengths – it takes a village.

Finally, cooperation – none of us is alone. It is easy to feel like a lone wolf, but as one speaker said, probably what you are trying to achieve has already been done. Learning from others who have done similar work and finding out about the resources available to support your efforts is helpful, and this requires collaboration.

Idaho Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Stand
South-Central Idaho booth of the Spanish Chamber of Commerce
The stands of the Community Development Resource Fair were an opportunity to connect with organizations such as the Idaho Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (left) and South Central Idaho Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (right).

Looking to the future, what are your hopes of working further to support rural communities in Idaho and elsewhere?

A lot of energy, inspiration and momentum flowed from this summit. I would like to help create or support existing cross-sectoral cooperation in rural Idaho. Such collaboration would be a way for us to continue to learn from each other and support each other in our efforts to prosper the Idaho countryside in an inclusive way. I would also like the Rural Success Summit to become an annual event held in different parts of Idaho so that rural communities can continue to share their successes and connect with each other.

Leilani Barnett is the Regional Manager for Inland California Community Development, including Central Valley, Sacramento, and Idaho at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco.

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The views expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the views of the management of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco or the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System.


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