Watch: New Mexico Gov. Lujan Grisham’s speech, all sessions at Reimagining the Rural West workshop in Santa Fe

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham emphasized collaboration among western states and the importance of seeing challenges as opportunities at the Santa Fe workshop of the Reimagining the Rural West Initiative.

“Politics likes to prevent leaders from working together,” the Governor said in remarks that concluded the Nov. 4-5 event. “The Western Governors’ Association doesn’t operate with that model. We’re trying to address the challenges we have.”

The Governor also lauded how the Chairman's Initiative of WGA Chair, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, is taking on issues that pose obstacles for rural communities to thrive, such as improving access to broadband and food security.

“The highlight for me in this workshop is the notion that we in the West don’t think about challenges and opportunities as mutually exclusive propositions,” said Gov. Lujan Grisham. “Take our ethos to protect our unique and beautiful natural environment.  We in the West don’t consider the ethos to be protective of the environment coming at the expense of our economies.”

The Chairman's Initiative of WGA Chair and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum is examining challenges and opportunities in rural economic development, infrastructure and quality of life. The ongoing dialogue will help identify best practices and ultimately enable the recommendation of policies to better support vibrant rural communities in the West.

WGA Executive Director Jim Ogsbury opened the workshop by reminding attendees that, thanks to technology, “People in western rural communities are not in the middle of nowhere, they are in the middle of everywhere.”

Watch videos of all sessions by using the links below.

WATCH: Rural Prosperity: A Conversation with USDA: In 2017, the Interagency Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity published a report to serve as a roadmap to the empowerment of rural America. This session focused on the report and what it reveals about opportunity in rural communities. Panelists described the efforts of USDA Rural Development to build robust, sustainable communities for generations to come. Panelists: Rebeckah Freeman Adcock, Senior Advisor to the Secretary, U.S. Department of Agriculture; Arthur Garcia, New Mexico State Director, Rural Development, U.S. Department of Agriculture.

WATCH: Resilient Rural Resource Economies: Many rural communities in the West are closely tied to the energy industry, which often supports community development, generates revenues, and delivers jobs, but can also place demands on infrastructure and create economic dependency. As a result, periods of rapid growth or decline in the industry cause turbulent transitions. Panelists discussed how resource-dependent communities are navigating those transitions and fostering resilience to economic change. Panelists: Jack Morgan, Community and Economic Development Program Manager, National Association of Counties; Daniel Stenberg, Economic Development Coordinator, McKenzie County, North Dakota; Arvin Trujillo, CEO, Four Corners Economic Development; Kent Wilson, Commissioner, Emery County, Utah.

WATCH: Emerging Opportunities in Energy: This panel discussed emerging opportunities for rural communities to capitalize on their natural resources and the practices, policies and partnerships that can foster energy research, technology and industries. Panelists: Greg Brophy, Colorado Director, The Western Way; Jeff Edwards, Executive Director, Utah Advanced Materials & Manufacturing Initiative; Melissa Fox, Program Director, Applied Energy Programs, Los Alamos National Laboratory.

WATCH: Cultural Heritage and Tourism: As travelers increasingly seek out authentic and singular experiences, tourism presents an opportunity for rural destinations to expose visitors to their rich culture and history. This panel explored how western tribes and communities are developing cultural heritage tourism and capitalizing on their unique local offerings to drive sustainable economic growth. Panelists: Melvin Juanico, Operations Manager, Sky City Cultural Center & Haak’u Museum; Angelisa Murray, Owner and Guide, Heritage Inspirations; Sherry Rupert, Executive Director, American Indian Alaska Native Tourism Association.

WATCH: Connecting Young People to Careers: Providing students with high-quality education, skills training and career development experience is a challenge in rural settings. Many rural students are not fully exposed to career opportunities in high school. As a result, many choose to leave the rural West to pursue higher education and jobs in bigger cities. Panelists explored efforts to increase career awareness and develop opportunities that enable young people to remain and thrive in rural communities. Moderator: William Symonds, Director, Global Pathways Institute, Arizona State University. Panelists: Charles Massie, Executive Director of External Programs, Klamath Community College; Ben Thomas, Executive Director, Rocky Mountain Youth Corps; Gregory Zick, Assistant Vice President, Workforce Development, National Association of Home Builders.

WATCH: The Future of Remote Work: Technology has made it possible to work from just about anywhere that has a good broadband connection. States and localities are developing comprehensive strategies to transform connectivity into a meaningful economic development tool. Panelists highlighted programs and policies that encourage employers to hire rural workers and equip rural jobseekers with the skills and resources they need to succeed. Panelists: Shelly Fausett, Center Director, SoloWorks Cibola; Paul Hill, Extension Associate Professor, Utah State University; Nadia Mossburg, Senior Policy Advisor, Office of Disability Employment Policy, U.S. Department of Labor.

WATCH: Rural Food Security: Access to affordable, healthy food is essential for rural communities to thrive. Members of the panel explained the factors affecting rural hunger and food access and explored how states and localities can foster healthier communities and integrate local food systems into economic development strategies. Panelists: Gloria Begay, Executive Director, Diné Food Sovereignty Alliance; Sherry Hooper, Executive Director, The Food Depot; Derrick Lambert, Senior Manager, No Kid Hungry Campaign by Share Our Strength; Pam Roy, Executive Director & Co-founder, Farm to Table.

WATCH: Remarks by The Honorable Michelle Lujan Grisham, Governor of New Mexico: The Santa Fe workshop concluded with remarks from New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who will discuss efforts undertaken in her state to bolster growth in rural areas.

For more information on the WGA Chairman’s Initiative, please contact WGA Policy Advisor Lauren DeNinno at (720) 897-4536 or [email protected]. To support the Initiative, please contact WGA Director of Development, Sarah Olsen at (720) 897-4540 or [email protected]. 

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