Exploring Montana

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My latest travel adventures in August took me to Montana. Before the Rural LISC conference and the WealthWorks gathering, I spent a few days in Livingston with some friends exploring the Yellowstone River, Yellowstone National Park and the downtown art scene. It was spectacular. I saw bighorn, elk, bison and more wildlife than I could have imagined. And my friends took me to Fairy Lake also, which was a beautiful clear mountain lake. I met up with my friend and colleague Sulynn Creswell from the Black Belt Treasures Cultural Arts Center in Bozeman for day of galleries and delicious food. 

And then we made our way to Big Sky for the conference, where I met so many wonderful people.  It is always fantastic to be with the WealthWorks community, where I learned about so many innovative value chains springing up around the country, in seafood, tourism, agriculture, and more. I look forward to our work together over the coming years spreading the word and helping new value chains to emerge and grow.

The view one morning at big sky.

The view one morning at big sky.

Back in South Dakota

In late May, I had the pleasure of being back in South Dakota with the Sisseton Wahpeton Sioux Tribe. My experiences on the reservation have been wonderful. This time, since it was spring, I was able to visit more of the reservation, seeing a variety of housing complexes, the tribal orchard and garden properties, as well as the hillier part of the reservation. I visited Pickerel Lake, the deepest natural lake in South Dakota, which was beautiful. With the help of the Planning Office, we brought together a variety of potential partners in the food system work, including Head Start, the Youth Center, the agency for the elderly, Natural Resources, the casinos and others to talk about what is possible and what might come next. Patty and I will be looking at a variety of models for moving this food system work forward, including food hubs, incubator farms, partnerships with the tribal college, youth gardening, edible landscaping and more. I'm hopeful we'll have the opportunity to present our findings in person in the fall. 

WealthWorks and Economic Development

I’ve been preparing for two full-day workshops on WealthWorks and Economic Development. As I write this, I’ve just returned from the National Association of Development Organizations (NADO) Annual Training Conference in San Antonio, Texas.  In a couple of weeks, I’ll be on my way to Minnesota to deliver another full-day workshop for the National Joint Powers Alliance and Region Five Development Commission. These workshops have encouraged me to consider WealthWorks in the context of traditional economic development, namely as a framework to use in thinking about Comprehensive Economic Development Strategies (CEDS).

While the workshop audiences may not be exploring or constructing WealthWorks value chains, they may want to use the framework in their planning work. The concepts of creating impact on multiple forms of wealth, encouraging local ownership and control, and engaging low-income populations does fit in with their work. In addition, these planners and economic developers may be encouraging others to build wealth creating value chains; regional development organizations may play supporting roles in a value chain.


Through other workshops I’ve done with this type of audience, I’ve found that these folks have been seeking the language that WealthWorks provides, especially around the multiple forms of wealth. In preparing for this workshop in particular, I was researching regional economic development organizations that are using this language in their CEDS documents. I came across the Land of Sky Regional Council, based in Western North Carolina; one of their staff members did attend and participate in one of the WealthWorks Trainings for Coaches and Coordinators just outside of Philadelphia. Their evaluation framework lists all the forms of wealth and their hoped-for outcomes for each.

As I’ve been preparing these presentations and thinking about how the WealthWorks framework can help inform the CEDS, it’s clear that it can really inform the whole thing:

Summary Background of economic conditions in the region. The summary background of economic conditions in the region is essentially a baseline of conditions in the region. While not all forms of wealth pertain to economic conditions, many do. Conditions can connect to capitals. Environment connects to natural capital. Culture connects to cultural capital. Workforce connects to individual capital and possibly intellectual capital.

SWOT Analysis to identify regional Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. The capitals can also help frame strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. This is essentially an inventory of capitals. How are we doing? What do we have that we can work with?

Action Plan incorporating tactics identified through planning process, other plans, and stakeholder feedback to develop the priority strategies for the region. Actions and strategies can be developed to impact multiple forms of wealth.  

Evaluation Framework to identify and monitor performance measures associated with the plan. As mentioned earlier, the evaluation of impacts can be organized using the forms of wealth.

 

 

The New Economy

I recently had the opportunity to attend the New Economy Coalition’s CommonBound Conference in Buffalo, New York. I’ve never been to this conference, but it was one of the most diverse (in almost every way) events I’ve ever been to. Unfortunately, this conference took place after the horrific events of the July 4 week, namely the Philando Castile shooting in Minnesota, the Alton Sterling shooting in Baton Rouge, and the five police officers shot in Dallas. However, these events provided the reminder that we have a long way to go to enjoy a new economy that benefits all. I learned about some unique initiatives like the Boston Ujima Project (https://www.facebook.com/bostonujimaproject/) which is organizing, neighbors, workers, business owners and investors to create a community-controlled economy in Greater Boston.

Over the past several years, I’ve been involved in a group of caring, intelligent people moving the WealthWorks approach to economic development forward. For more information, find the WealthWorks tab on this site. At the CommonBound event, we were able to bring our network of regional hubs together to discuss the future of WealthWorks and what we can each do to move this framework forward. There were colleagues from all over the country, from places like Oregon, Utah, North Carolina, Arkansas, Maryland, Washington DC, Ohio, Minnesota, and of course Vermont. I’m excited about the progress we made and am excited to be a part of it. I’ll be hoping to spread the WealthWorks framework throughout New England. 

Collaboration in Disaster Resilience

I recently wrote an article for the Vermont Environmental Consortium (VEC) May blog. I'm the Secretary and Board Member of VEC. You can see it below.

 

VEC Members Collaborate To Support Disaster Resilience

VEC is an organization focused on building the environmental sector in Vermont. As such, VEC members have a variety of opportunities to collaborate on engaging projects with positive results. One of these collaborations was recently with KAS, Inc. and Community Roots, LLC. KAS is a small woman-owned enterprise in Vermont and New York State, specializing in providing high quality environmental management, civil and environmental engineering. Community Roots, LLC is a small woman-owned consulting firm focused on natural resource-based rural economic development research and facilitation. KAS and Community Roots worked together with, Fitzgerald Environmental Associates and ESPC Civil and Environmental Engineering, on a Long Term Community Recovery Strategy for the Hamlet of Au Sable Forks in Essex County, New York.

Au Sable Forks is one of those small hamlets that was built on the river, specifically at the confluence of the East Branch and the West Branch of the Ausable River.  This all-too-common scenario in the Northeast is a relic of historical use of the river to power mills. Over the last century, settlement patterns in the hamlet resulted in neighborhoods developing in areas that were once used for only agriculture, resulting in many homes located on a frequently flooded bend of the river. Today, there are approximately 19 businesses found within the 100-year floodplain in the Jay-portion of the hamlet of Au Sable Forks.  

The team was tasked to review the work completed to date and determine the best next steps to enhance the recovery and resiliency of Au Sable Forks. All partners brought something to the task, including environmental engineering, river dynamics, and community and economic development. The end result is a roadmap of next steps for the hamlet of Au Sable Forks, including both policy and program recommendations and flood resiliency projects. Policy and program recommendations included updating the flood regulations, flood depth mapping (which the Project Team prepared), an education program for debris removal/channel work, and emergency response training, specifically related to swift water. Flood resiliency projects included a flood wall/levee, a residential relocation plan for the two most vulnerable neighborhoods, and floodplain protection areas. The project is still being finalized, but the experience was a positive collaboration, utilizing each firm's complementary special skills.

 

 

Exploring the Mighty Mississippi

I recently had the opportunity to travel to Clarksdale, Mississippi once again. I’m working with the Lower Mississippi River Foundation (LMRF), a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting stewardship of the Lower Mississippi River through deep engagement. My work with them involves strategic planning, outcome measures and financial sustainability. I’m always deeply impressed by John Ruskey, the energetic and engaging Director of the LMRF and Owner of Quapaw Canoe Company. While others are talking about getting kids outside and away from their screens, John and his team are actually doing it, through their Mighty Quapaw apprenticeship program, through trips they guide with after school programs, and with school students who come from all over the country to experience what the Lower Mississippi River has to offer.

I was also lucky enough to go with John and several others on a day-long, 30 mile paddle on the Lower Mississippi River. On the way to our starting point, we stopped at the site of Muddy Waters’ childhood home. Quapaw builds beautiful voyageur canoes that can hold up to 14 people. On this day, there were seven of us in the Ladybug canoe. The Mississippi River suffers from perceptions that it is dirty, unsafe and dangerous.  Despite the chill in the air, the trip was wonderful and shattered any of those perceptions for me. The beaches were beautiful, white sand beaches, on which we saw abundant evidence of wildlife. At our first stop at Island 64, John and his crew made a beautiful fire on which to make soup for lunch, and prepared a wonderful spread of healthy food. This break provided an opportunity to rest our muscles and re-energize for the remainder of the trip. Because it was Ash Wednesday, John performed a Native American blessing for each of us on the beach.

This was a very special experience for me. I can’t quite explain what made it so special, but I think it was the combination of an amazing place and thoughtful people who care deeply about what they do. I am still sharing it with people over a month later. I can’t wait to come back with my family.

In the meantime, this was a work trip, despite the opportunity for some play. I continue to work with John and the LMRF to determine what their future holds. Unfortunately, a couple of weeks ago, after a deluge of rain, the Sunflower River, along which Quapaw and the LMRF are located, rose 25 feet in 24 hours, flooding the Quapaw and LMRF headquarters for the first and hopefully last time. This flood has devastated this small organization, but they will rebuild and continue to do what they do best. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New Paper: Measuring the Impacts of Economic Development

A paper I wrote for the Rural Research Report, a publication of the Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs, has been published. Titled Measuring the Impacts of Economic Development, it talks about reasons for measuring, measuring outputs vs. outcomes, measuring money vs. wealth, systems of measurement for multiple capitals, and examples from the field. The goal is to help practitioners and elected officials select measures and measurement practices that support their work and mission. You can find it at this link:

http://www.iira.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/Measuring-the-Impacts-of-Economic-Development-Melissa-Levy.pdf

WealthWorks and Beyond

This fall, I’ve traveled to two different meetings. In September, I had the good fortune to attend the final peer learning event of the WealthWorks community supported by Ford Foundation funding. It was exciting to see how this initiative has spread from its original Ford Foundation grantees to many organizations who are implementing it without foundation funding. There were the higher capacity organizations who piloted this approach, in addition to those who have been trained in it through the WealthWorks Training for Coaches and Coordinators. There was so much learning across sectors and within sectors. As I was there chatting with the contingent from Newaygo County, Michigan about their recreation and tourism value chain, I realized that another group, not in attendance, was doing something similar in a different place. As a result, I helped to organize a learning call between Newaygo County, Michigan and Green River, Utah, to share what they’ve learned in their value chain exploration.

I also was able to attend the Land Trust Alliance Rally in Sacramento, California, where I presented a half day workshop on Strategic Planning and Creating Measures that Matter. I also had the opportunity to present a session with Rob Aldrich, Director of Community Conservation for the Land Trust Alliance, with whom I’ve had the good fortune to work over the past year. We’ve been working on how to measure the impact of community conservation, and this session was an opportunity to share what we’ve been up to. The assessment tool that we developed is being pre-tested right now. What started out as a measurement tool has evolved into a tool that can help land trusts assess their community conservation work, plan for greater impact through their community conservation work, and measure the impacts of their community conservation work. When I took stock of what I knew about community conservation and learned more, I realized that the impacts closely follow the multiple forms of wealth from my work in WealthWorks with rural communities. With some minor modifications, adding an additional attribute (justice, equity, access) and modifying some language, this framework is now being proposed and used as a way of thinking about the impacts of community conservation. Land trusts are enjoying this framework as it gives them a way to talk about those impacts beyond “bucks and acres” and helps them to think about broader and deeper impacts. 

Welcome to Community Roots, LLC

Welcome to Community Roots! After 12 years at Yellow Wood Associates, where I learned so much from Yellow Wood’s principal, Shanna Ratner, I have decided to break out on my own, starting my own consulting business. In thinking about a name for this business, I instinctively thought about the work I’ve been doing training and coaching communities and organizations in building up their roots, while helping them to consider branching out through collaboration.

I’ve been working in the rural development field for the past 17 years, including 12 years at Yellow Wood and, prior to that, 5 years at the National Association of Development Organizations. Clients I’ve worked with have included federal, state and local governments; nonprofit organizations; foundations and citizens groups. My work over the past 17 years has taken me all over the United States, from New England to Central Appalachia to the Deep South to the Midwest and the West. I hope to continue to work with a diverse array of clients in a variety of natural resource based economic development areas wherever the opportunity may arise.

I’m excited to embark on this new adventure. I hope to write these blog posts once a month to start, in an effort to communicate with colleagues; past, current and future clients; and friends about what I’m up to and what wisdom I can share from my travels, my readings and my work.