What Maine can learn from Vermont about revitalizing rural communities

Maine is the most rural state in the United States, but it doesn’t have an organization devoted solely to helping rural communities. There are various groups focused on particular aspects of rural development but not one to tie all the efforts together, even as rural parts of the state continue to struggle with population and job losses.

Maine could look to a neighbor and nearly equally rural state, Vermont, to see what a centralized body dedicated to tackling uniquely rural challenges has done for the state’s communities. Since 1992, the Vermont Council on Rural Development (VCRD) has helped communities identify their goals and create plans to achieve them, and connected them with potential funding sources and expert advice.

We don’t come in with our own agenda. It’s about helping communities become collective teams for action,” said Paul Costello, who has served as the executive director of the Vermont Council on Rural Development since 2000.

For a new state rural development council to succeed in Maine, there would need to be an independent source of funds, not just grants. The private sector would need to support it. “The folks that want to give you grants, they want to make sure that you’re sustainable on your own to do other projects because that money is going to end, and then what are you going to do?” said Robin Beck, board member of Maine Rural Partners, an earlier, failed attempt to support rural communities. “In looking back at the way things had been run prior to me coming on, they should have built an independent giving base through individuals and businesses within the state.

A new council would likely find support from other organizations. GrowSmart Maine, which previously partnered with Maine Rural Partners, works to revitalize downtowns, conserve land and prevent sprawl. A new state rural development council would not overlap with what the organization is doing, GrowSmart Maine Executive Director Nancy Smith said.

About VCRD:
The Vermont Council on Rural Development (VCRD) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the support of the locally-defined progress of Vermont’s rural communities. VCRD is a dynamic partnership of federal, state, local, nonprofit and private partners. Actively non-partisan with an established reputation for community-based facilitation, VCRD is uniquely positioned to sponsor and coordinate collaborative efforts across governmental and organizational categories concerned with policy questions of rural import.

Since its inception in 1992, VCRD has built a profile of rural policy leadership that is grounded by work in local communities and extends to collaborative partnerships with the highest levels of state and federal programs.

The Vermont Council on Rural Development helps Vermont citizens build prosperous and resilient communities through democratic engagement, marshalling resources, and collective action.

About GrowSmart Maine:
The Mission of GrowSmart Maine is to build lasting prosperity without sacrificing the quality of life that defines Maine. Maine’s iconic landscapes and architecture, sense of community and independent spirit are all reasons people choose Maine. These strengths must be at the foundation of our prosperity.

GrowSmart Maine’s work is grounded within the connections between conservation of natural resources, community revitalization and economic development. That is smart growth. Core principles such as strategic land conservation, sustainable economic development, efficient transportation systems, climate change mitigation and adaptation and even opportunities for optimal personal health are all achievable with smart growth principles, policies and projects.

We work to revitalize historic neighborhoods and vibrant communities well-suited for residents of all ages, to foster entrepreneurs and creative thinkers, and to provide a safe and inclusive place to raise children. Our goal is to ensure that future generations can prosper and choose to call Maine home.

Photo credit: Adobe Stock

See full article by Corlynn Vorhees in BDN Maine.

See Vermont Council on Rural Development website.

See GrowSmart Maine website.

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