Chuck Schroeder, Executive Director of Rural Futures Institute

(Sam Capoun) Good morning and welcome to AGam in Kansas. I’m Sam Capoun. Today, we’re at the Ranching Summit. I’m here with Chuck Schroeder. Chuck, tell me a little bit about what you do and then we’ll go from there. (Chuck Schroeder) Sure. Sam, I am the founding Executive Director of the Rural Futures Institute at the University of Nebraska. We’re relatively new institution. We are a university-wide institute that works with not only all campuses of the University of Nebraska, but with a variety of other research and education institutions, non-profit organizations, government agencies, private companies, and in particular, rural communities themselves, that are trying to go from where they are to where they’d like to be. (Sam) Why are you focusing on rural communities? What does it have to do with agriculture? (Chuck) We absolutely believe that strong rural communities are critical to the strength of states like Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota. Actually, they’re critical to any state in this country. They’re critical to the United States of America. We think they’re critical, quite honestly, to nations across the globe. It is a faulty strategy, I would have to say, for us to continue to concentrate our population in a few narrow strips across this country, a few small places around the world and think it is a way for us to survive on this planet. We believe that strong communities are important. How that ties back to agriculture is, agriculture is our natural resource base. It is our food production base. In order for a sound agricultural enterprise to exist and carry on into the future, there has to be a strong community around it, a community that understands the nature of that business, that understands innovation and entrepreneurship, that understands the need to support and encourage families that are living in that community. They all go together in order for us to have a strong society in this country. (Sam) How do you guys support this information through studies, through groups, how do you find this information? (Chuck) Everything that we do begins with someone in a rural community. Some are saying, “Here’s a problem we’re trying to solve. Here’s an opportunity that we’re trying to pursue. Can you help us connect the dots with resources that will help us go from where we are to where we’d like to be?” We have a competitive awards program at the heart of what we do that has allowed us now to undertake 41 projects over the last three years that involve 23 colleges and universities in six states, about 41 non-profit organizations across the country that are focused on rural issues, 14 government agencies at the local state and federal level, 10 private companies and over a hundred communities. (Sam) It’s very cool. (Chuck) This allows us to bring the best resources that we can find to address a very broad range of issues – leadership, entrepreneurship, innovation, business development, business transitions, healthcare, K-12 education, housing, broadband – all of those issues that combine to create a strong community. Every community is unique. We are not a 30,000 foot developed broad-based programs that we rain down on rural communities hoping something good happens. We work community by community, with communities that are trying to go somewhere and try to help them be as strong as they can be based upon the strength of the assets that are right there in that community. (Sam) It’s really important to have strong leaders as well, right? (Chuck) Absolutely, it is the critical issue. There had been studies over the years that try to tell us a community has to be close to an interstate highway; a community has to have x number of residents, 5,000 or more; has to have a diverse economic base. We know that’s all baloney. We have the clear evidence that it isn’t population, it isn’t location, it is all about leadership. By the way, leadership that matters, leadership that has a sense of where our community might go with the strength that the people and the assets that we have right here. Leadership is it and we invest a lot in helping those, even if it’s a small core of leaders in a community, that have that vision for where they want to go. We know if that core is there that we can make a difference. (Sam) Coming from a rural community myself, I couldn’t agree more. I’m really proud of where I came from. I’m proud of what you guys are doing. Thanks for your service and thanks for joining us today at AGam in Kansas. (Chuck) My pleasure. Thank you. (Sam) Thank you.

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