Arizona Rural Policy Forum feature (image)

Arizona Rural Policy Forum

Partners For Rural America Annual Meeting and the Arizona Rural Policy Forum Brings Attention and Revenue to Pinetop-Lakeside

On August 9th – 12th, Rural Arizona received much attention from national and local leaders with the Partners For Rural America (PRA) Annual Meeting coinciding with the annual Arizona Rural Policy Forum in Pinetop-Lakeside.

Local First Arizona Foundation and Arizona Rural Development Council Director Kimber Lanning applied to host the PRA Annual Meeting two years ago, and Arizona was officially selected after she worked with regional economic developers to devise an educational tour of the Apache and Navajo county regions. “We are proud to be showcasing the great work being done in Arizona’s rural communities to a local and national audience,” said Lanning. “We are especially proud to have brought these leaders and advocates to Pinetop-Lakeside. Many people may know the area for its outdoor recreation activities and the natural beauty of the White Mountains, but we also heard about a variety of community and economic development programs operating in the area that are unique to Arizona.”

Partners for Rural America is the national organization of State Rural Development Councils. The State Rural Development Councils help local communities define their core assets and challenges, identify key long term priorities for development, collaborate to advance local initiatives and seek affordable alternatives. The work of Councils helps coordinate requests for federal and state funds and minimize regulatory redundancy. The Local First Arizona Foundation, which houses the Arizona Rural Development Council, is the State Rural Development Council for Arizona.

Seventeen federally supported State Rural Development Councils from around the country were invited to attend the PRA Annual Meeting. One day of the PRA Annual Meeting was dedicated to a tour of the greater Pinetop-Lakeside area which included stops to showcase economic and community prosperity in rural Arizona. The tour highlighted manufacturing, sustainable power generation, transportation, workforce development, regional collaboration, and tourism at a variety of stops and destinations.

Following the PRA Annual Meeting, the Arizona Rural Policy Forum took place Wednesday, August 10, through Friday, August 12. The Arizona Rural Policy Forum connects rural economic development professionals, nonprofits, community leaders, business owners, and other rural stakeholders who are interested in sustaining rural communities. The event provided an opportunity for skill-building, networking, building relationships and educating each other about the needs and services in rural Arizona. Activities included capacity-building sessions, receptions, workshops, and keynote presentations all of which culminated with the grant maker roundtables.

This year’s keynote speakers for the Arizona Rural Policy Forum were Liz Sosa and Don Macke. Liz is the Director of Public Square Communities, an organization that facilitates citizen-led community development by engaging and mobilizing four primary sectors–business, education, human services, and government. Don Macke (pictured at far left) is a Co-Founder and Co-Director of the Center for Rural Entrepreneurship. The Center works throughout the United States and Canada supporting research, outreach, professional development and policy work related to rural entrepreneurship.

In addition to the regular Forum programming, attendees were invited to participate in outside tours and events to see and experience actual examples of rural community and economic development and network with peers.

“The 10th Annual Rural Policy Forum brought almost 300 people to town. Pinetop-Lakeside Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Crystal O’Donnell is to be commended for her incredible work and organizational skills! Crystal recruited us going back 2 years, and we may have overlooked this amazing town had she not encouraged us to come take a look. Using her network, we were able to secure everything from a tour bus to pine tree gifts for our 50+ speakers and everything in between,” notes Lanning, “We are still adding up the estimated impact but suffice to say the group sold at least 250 beds over 3 days, and spent over $17,000 on food, plus another $3,000 on shopping and other incidentals. In addition to those immediate impacts, we had about 30% of the folks who had never been to Pinetop before, and another 30% who hadn’t been there in 10 years or more. The feedback on the town has been tremendous! People loved it and I feel confident they’ll be back.”

About the Local First Arizona Foundation

The Local First Arizona Foundation (LFAF) is a non-profit sister organization of Local First Arizona, a statewide non-profit organization working to strengthen communities and local economies through growing, supporting, and celebrating locally owned businesses throughout the state of Arizona. LFAF’s mission is to catalyze the community to leverage the resources, opportunities, and information needed to build sustainable local economies throughout Arizona, resulting in a high quality of life for all. For more information, please visit