Over the last forty years, the dominant narrative for rural communities has been one of decline and loss, said Brandon Hofstedt, associate professor of sustainable community development and faculty director of the new Center for Rural Communities.
His surveys and research, however, tell a different story. “There is a vibrant future ahead, and some of the most promising options for rural development mean capitalizing on community resources,” he said.
Hofstedt has been instrumental in the formation of the Northland College Center for Rural Communities, developed to research and address the reshaping of the rural narrative.
He and his students have teamed with the City of Ashland, the Ashland Chamber of Commerce, the Ashland Area Development Corporation, the Duluth Superior Area Community Foundation, and Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College to create a database of the region’s amenities and assets. According to the report, items on the list include two colleges, a hospital, Lake Superior, the Apostle Islands, city parks, bike trails, libraries, coffee shops, bookstores, grocery stores, and more.
They released the seventy-four page Assets and Amenities Comparison Report in September, and presented their findings at a one-day forum in Ashland on strategies for optimizing Ashland’s resources.
Their findings included a list of good news. For example:
• Ashland has a diversifying economy and is witnessing population growth in key age groups;
• Ashland and the Chequamegon Bay region features unmatched and unique natural assets;
• Ashland possesses vital assets in the key sectors of health care and education.
Some fifteen students attended the forum. They will be transcribing their notes to create an executive summary, and then distributing the action steps to the group, Hofstedt said.
Hofstedt does not want the project to sit on a shelf. He and students will continue to build the database, eventually making it available to and interactive for the public.
“The purpose is to take inventory of what we have that can counteract the negative narrative for the region and rural communities,” he said.