NEWS RELEASE: RFI-Funded Research Project Receives International and National Attention

LINCOLN, Neb. — December 12, 2017 — Marketing Hometown America, a funded research project from the Rural Futures Institute at the University of Nebraska, is receiving national and international attention. 

Led by RFI Faculty Fellow Cheryl Burkhart-Kriesel, the project is designed to help rural communities market themselves to improve new resident recruitment as well as retention. After the program’s pilot across three Great Plains states, North Dakota, South Dakota and Nebraska, the research group used Ripple Effects Mapping to evaluate both the intended and unintended community outcomes in each location.

Burkhart-Kriesel recently co-authored an article about the project in the second volume of the Minnesota Evaluation Studies Institute Program Evaluation Series titled “A Field Guide to Ripple Effects Mapping.” The article discusses the importance of evaluation when planning and implementing community development projects.

“Coming together as a community to evaluate the effort is a way to share the broader story and to see how all the pieces came together,” Burkhart-Kriesel said when discussing the importance of evaluation processes.

The research team from North Dakota, South Dakota and Nebraska were also invited to Sioux City, Iowa, this fall to share the Marketing Hometown America program with Extension faculty from Iowa State University. After the six-hour training session, two pilot communities in western Iowa were identified with the intent to offer the program statewide.

Burkhart-Kriesel also recently presented a paper at the North Atlantic Forum in Bø, Telemark in Norway. The North Atlantic Forum was originally formed as a way to bring rural coastal communities in the north Atlantic together to share issues, opportunities and resources. Presenters and participants came from Canada, the British Isles, Scandinavia, the countries surrounding the North Sea, Central Europe, Central America and Asia.

“It might appear that the North American Great Plains would have little in common with this region, but just the opposite is true. Issues such as rural migration and depopulation, identifying processes that help communities develop a vision and development plan, finding ways to build diverse economies and strengthening youth and young adult connections are themes in rural areas all over the world,” Burkhart-Kriesel said.

During her presentation titled “Rural New Resident Recruitment: A Critical First Step Toward Sustainability,” she focused on the importance of attracting new residents to rural communities despite a decline in North American Great Plains population. The theme of the forum focused on the many ways rural communities can help sustain and strengthen their natural resource base as a necessary strategy to better position themselves for the future.

Highlights from the presentation:

Almost two-thirds (roughly 600,000 people) of the counties in the North American Great Plains lost population between 1950 and 2007. In 69 Great Plains counties, more than 50 percent of their population was lost (U.S. Census Bureau).

There has been long-term decline in the North American Great Plains population, but research has shown that in some rural areas there is a growing interest in in-migration, especially from more urban areas.

The rural landscape and both natural and human resources can be taken for granted and overlooked as assets that can be marketed to potential new residents. These rural assets can be showcased using the community marketing process to enhance new resident recruitment.

Burkhart-Kriesel had also previously received international attention when she was invited to present the Marketing Hometown America curriculum at the 2015 International Association of Community Development (IACD) conference held in Glasgow, Scotland. After the conference, an urban neighborhood organizer in Glasgow was interested in adapting the Marketing Hometown America material as a way to recruit new residents.

“Listening to the various presentations from diverse places across the world, I am convinced that rural issues are more similar than different,” Burkhart-Kriesel said.

Burkhart-Kriesel is located at the Panhandle Research and Extension Center in Scottsbluff, Nebraska. Her position in western Nebraska gives her an important viewpoint on the opportunities and challenges that impact rural communities. Her research and extension programs focus on demographic renewal and economic opportunities in rural communities in Nebraska and beyond.