What the Rural Prosperity Initiative Means for Lane County

Kim Thompson Photo

Limited staff time, funding, and technical expertise are barriers for rural communities seeking to strengthen their local economies. Knowing this, the newly developed Rural Prosperity Initiative calls for the Lane County Community and Economic Development Division to dedicate additional time and resources toward “filling the gaps” for these communities.

The overarching goal of the Rural Prosperity Initiative is to offer a coordinated support system which draws on local expertise, builds capacity, and caters to the individual needs of each rural community. Or, as Lane County’s economic development manager puts it: “We are committed to assisting our rural communities in the most effective way to improve their economic autonomy. We want to work with them as partners.”

This has long been on the County’s Community and Economic Development Division work plan. But until recently, staffing challenges limited the time spent in the rural areas of the county.  Over the past year, staff worked with both the City of Florence and the unincorporated area of McKenzie River to pilot aspects of this initiative. As the pilots unfolded, Lane County staff discovered the best way to benefit rural communities is to work as partners with community members. The intent expressed by Sarah Means, Lane County’s economic development manager, is that this program will change the county’s responses to community needs from reactive to proactive.

Fostering connectivity between the county and rural communities will take a lot of work. In fact, Lane County has hired a full-time analyst to take on this initiative.  Kim Thompson, who has spent close to twenty years working in the workforce and economic development field for the State of Oregon, will be Lane County’s new economic development officer.

Ms. Thompson is already very familiar with Lane County and its communities. She went to school at the University of Oregon and has lived in the county for most of the 20 years following her graduation. Ms. Thompson has a passion for serving Lane County that goes beyond working for the State and now for the County. She currently serves with the Springfield Chamber Board of Directors, Eugene Chamber Economic Development Community, Willamalane Parks Foundation, Springfield Library Board, and is a member of the Florence Chamber of Commerce.

Her service with these boards has allowed her to gain a deep understanding of community needs. Taking on the role of economic development officer with Lane County will bring her even closer to local and rural areas. The position will be very hands-on, allowing Ms. Thompson to travel into the communities she serves, asking the right questions to resolve economic growth issues in rural areas.

Kim Thompson says of her new appointment with Lane County: “Because our county is so spread out and we have so many different geographies and industries, it can be difficult to know what every community needs. It’s important to have someone coordinating the effort, who will make sure every voice is heard in the larger discussion. My intentions are to be a strong advocate and helpful liaison between the local communities and the county. ”

The Rural Prosperity Initiative was purposefully created to be a nimble and flexible plan, recognizing that each community has different needs and different points of view on how these needs should be met. There is no one-size-fits-all plan when it comes to rural economic development. This is why Kim Thompson defined the first steps she will be taking as: “Sitting down and meeting with all of the communities, getting an idea of what they are looking for and how they want to communicate.”

Ms. Thompson is particularly suited to creating partnerships between communities and companies that promote economic growth through education. She has spent the last six years doing presentations to local communities in Springfield, Florence, Cottage Grove and Veneta regarding industry and workforce needs. Several of these presentations have been geared toward helping high school students look at their next steps, once they are ready to enter the workforce.

The Rural Prosperity Initiative is expected to assist all cities and communities in Lane County utilizing direct community involvement. Also, Lane County staff are working with local partners and statewide and regional organizations to benefit rural areas. This is an exciting time for the county and our local communities, so be sure to keep up-to-date with the changes we are making through our email newsletter and our website.