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RRDC Issues and Activities

The Regional Rural Development Centers are a trusted source of economic and community development data, decision tools, education, and guidance in our nation’s rural communities. 

The RRDCs form a one-stop-shop to connect to the nationwide network of land-grant college and university researchers, educators, and practitioners to provide sound information and hands-on, community-level training. The training helps rural communities make science-based decisions about their community and economic development investments.

Innovating National Training Partnerships

The Regional Rural Development Centers are coordinating a national project to provide outreach, training, and technical assistance for individuals submitting proposals for USDA NIFA's Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) competitive grants program. The goal of the program is to increase awareness and understanding of the SBIR program, improve the quality of proposals, help participants understand the procedures involved in applying for SBIR grants, increase participation by minorities, women and other underserved populations, and help successful applicants manage their awards.

The SBIR partnership follows a successful model involving a partnership between the Regional Rural Development Centers, USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), and NIFA. Through this program, workshops were held in all 50 states to train individuals in better grant writing and procedures necessary to apply for AMS grants. Altogether, 137 state trainings were held in all 50 states, plus Puerto Rico and Virgin Islands, reaching over 3,000 participants. Data on participants revealed that 32.5 percent were minority and 66.4 percent were female.

Benchmarking Community Behavioral Health

The North Central Regional Center for Rural Development (NCRCRD) is spearheading the national project Community Assessment and Education to Promote Behavioral Health Planning and Evaluation (CAPE). Grappling with behavioral health problems, especially substance use and abuse, is a continual struggle for many communities across the country. A particular challenge for community leaders is that the occurrence of these issues varies tremendously from location to location. To help address this key challenge, CAPE is designing and testing new ways to provide early warning of emerging community-level behavioral health issues across the nation.

A cooperative effort between the Department of Health and Human Services’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the USDA NIFA, the Regional Rural Development Centers (RRDCs) and a set of Land-Grant universities, CAPE has four components: 1) several communities across the nation have recruited and engaged knowledgeable individuals to complete a biweekly and frequently updated survey of community behavioral health; 2) several other communities are developing and testing innovative early warning systems to detect changes in mental health; 3) the research team is also developing forecasting models using secondary data and social media data sources to predict changes in behavioral health at the subnational level in real time; and 4) the team is developing and will deliver a national mental health literacy curriculum to extension professionals and community partners.

Additionally, the Northeast Regional Center for Rural Development has conducted peer-reviewed research on the county-level determinants of mental health. These are helping to shape future strategies for both preventing and treating mental health challenges.

Strengthening Regional Economic Development

Rural communities increasingly struggle to compete economically in a highly competitive skills-based global market. Research shows that single community and county focused economic development is less successful and sustainable. Today’s rural communities must think, plan, and act regionally to gain a foothold in the marketplace.

To help rural communities in designing and implementing a viable regional economic development blueprint, the Regional Rural Development Centers have:

  • Guided multi-county regions in discovering and building on their unique regional assets and comparative advantages.
  • Helped rural regions build their strategies on broad-based partnerships that are grounded in regional cooperation rather than regional competition.
  • Established and nurtured strong working partnerships with USDA Rural Development and Cooperative Extension that have resulted in the successful launching of SET (Stronger Economies Together) in 32 states and over 80 multi-county regions, which in turn have leveraged $588 million in funding to support their work.
  • Generated cross-regional data profiles that explore competitive advantage, impact of economic crises such as plant shutdowns, and regional economic leakages through intricate data resources and tools.
  • Edited the ground-breaking peer-reviewed book, Targeting Regional Economic Development (Goetz, Deller & Harris) which informed the development of SET.
  • Fostered cross-state sharing of impactful community development programming to strengthen regional capacity.

Details about SET can be found at

Improving Sustainability

The RRDCs are involved in a variety of programs to improve sustainability.

  • The Western Rural Development Center conducts sustainability training for Extension Professionals on topics related to food, water, land, energy and climate/air. A 2016 training was held in Portland, Oregon. Beginning in 2018, this program will go national.
  • The Southern Rural Development Center is facilitating an AFRI Seed Grant designed to build collaboration around local & regional food systems in the South through research and Extension partnerships. Over 300 professionals from within the land-grant university system have been identified, and goals are set to move the collaboration forward.
  • The Northeast Regional Center for Rural Development has conducted path-breaking research which shows that Cooperative Extension programs have contributed to saving at least 137,000 farms nationally over the last 25 years. The research demonstrates the critical importance of Extension in sustaining food production capacity in the nation.


Farm bill priority areas
Agriculture economics and rural communities

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