Innovation isn’t just for big cities. Just ask Dr. Deborah Markley, managing director of the RUPRI Center for Rural Entrepreneurship in Chapel Hill, N.C.
Markley works with rural communities across the country helping them to develop and implement entrepreneurship programs as a core economic development strategy. Speaking at the International Economic Development Council’s 2011 conference, Markley said developing a culture of entrepreneurship in a small community presents unique challenges but great opportunity.
One of the chief obstacles is the isolation rural communities can face in access to resources and peer expertise in developing strategies to promote innovation. And economic development professionals in small communities are often split between industrial recruitment outside the area and developing their Main Street programs, leaving a wide middle ground for entrepreneurship and innovation untended.
Markley encourages economic development professionals in small communities to not fall into the trap of defining innovation solely in terms of technology. “Innovation isn’t just bio, pharmaceuticals and nano,” she said.
Rural communities often have assets that can be ripe for innovation, such as agriculture-based tourism or that are on the cutting edge of emerging industries, such as bio-fuels, carbon sequestration and renewable energy, such as wind and solar energy.
“It’s looking at your city and saying ‘What can can we do here that is wanted somewhere else,’” she said.