There is little doubt in the minds of local residents and leaders that the economic complexion of the rural South is changing. While agriculture and manufacturing remain vital parts of the economic health of many rural places, domestic and global forces are bringing dramatic changes to these sectors. Agriculture is becoming leaner and more efficient, while low-skilled manufacturing jobs are on the decline. Though rural places are experiencing healthy job growth, most are service-producing jobs that tend to pay lower wages and offer limited benefits.
So the question on the minds of rural Southerners is this: What economic development strategies make sense for rural communities of the South today? The question is critical and calls for the development of an economic development portfolio that is realistic and balanced. Such a portfolio not only acknowledges the value of recruiting firms that are a good fit for the community, but also recognizes the importance of looking internally. This means helping find ways to make existing firms stronger and unlocking the innovative entrepreneurial spirit that exists among adults and youth in these communities.