Strengthening Rural Resiliency with the 13th Annual Rural Policy Forum

Earlier this month, nearly 300 rural stakeholders, leaders, and advocates convened for the 13th Annual Rural Policy Forum, hosted by the Arizona Rural Development Council (AZRDC). Representatives from all 15 counties traversed the state for the two-day conference in the White Mountains, eager to seek new solutions for building stronger, more resilient rural economies across Arizona.

This event is critical to the ongoing, tireless efforts being orchestrated every day across Rural Arizona. Through this event, we aim to break down silos and connect our rural communities to resources and solutions that help to streamline their impact on community sustainability and growth.
— Liza Noland, AZRDC’s Director of Rural Programs

The persistent theme of the Rural Policy Forum across the years continues to be collaboration. Keynote speakers, Ines Polonius and Kimber Lanning focused on identifying synergistic approaches to respond to the root causes of persistent rural challenges. Polonius, CEO of Communities Unlimited, spoke towards building entrepreneurial ecosystems focused on micro-enterprises, small business, and water infrastructure to bring direct improvements to perpetually challenged rural communities. Lanning, Founding Director of the Local First Arizona Foundation, focused on dispelling popular myths of local economics, on identifying creative solutions to address economic leakage, and on the power of local collaboration in building connection to place.

This week has been about networking and learning how to grow and sustain our unique, small, rural communities across the state. Failure is not an option, and connecting to this network makes me feel strong and excited to keep trying in our community.
— Bri Morris, Graham County Chamber of Commerce

Over 65 local officials, non-profit leaders, and business owners were given platforms to discuss creative solutions to some of the most challenging issues impeding growth in rural Arizona. Topic tracks at this year’s Forum encompassed business development and retention; tourism and marketing strategies; healthy community initiatives; and stewardship and sustainability practices.

Together, these valuable conversations aimed to address the most pressing issues identified throughout the year and introduced templated solutions for leaders to take back to their home communities.

This year’s focus on the local food systems has provided the insight needed to find solutions to our local, unique challenges. Hearing about the programs already operating from the leaders and problem-solvers themselves gives me faith I can help improve my community.
— Mike Montiel, Superior Resident, Veterans Advocate, Developer of local school gardens


The Rural Policy Forum is made possible by the unwavering support of some of the state’s most prominent organizations and institutions:



The Rural Policy Forum rotates throughout the state to bring traffic, revenue, and exposure to rural communities leading the charge in community development. This year, the Rural Policy Forum had the pleasure of being hosted in the White Mountains by the Eagar-Springerville community. Orchestrated by the wonderful Karale Cox, wearer of many hats, the White Mountain community came together to provide a welcoming and authentic experience for attendees - many of which had never been to the area before.

For a select few, the Forum kicked off a day early with an economic development tour of the region; featuring the area’s forestry and wildlife refuge initiatives, as well as a tour of the only football dome in rural Arizona. Guests explored the emerging ag-tourism industry with a tour of X Diamond Ranch before heading to the Biomass Facility to hear from businesses committed to remaining in their rural community. The group also explored R Lazy Wildlife Ranch to learn about the new refuge dedicated to conservation and education. Needless to say, this coveted experience is among the first to sell-out each year, as folks continue to seek inspiration from the innovative development programs of their neighboring regions.

As per tradition, the community also hosted two boot-stomping parties to showcase the flavor of local growers, producers, and chefs. Wednesday night’s Kickoff Party was hosted by Springerville’s Heritage Center, allowing guests to mingle amongst cultural exhibits while sampling tastes of the region from local caterers. Thursday night’s Party Under the Stars brought out the dancing as guests enjoyed live music and authentic barbecue at Avery’s Waterhole



The Arizona Rural Development Council (AZRDC) is Arizona’s official, federally-recognized State Rural Development Council in the National Rural Development Partnership. State Rural Development Councils are composed of the agencies and organizations that play a part in developing the rural areas of their state. As a result, federal, regional, tribal, state, and local governments, along with non-profits and for-profit sectors, all play an important role in the work of each council.