The Rural Policy Forum, hosted by Local First Arizona, is one of the premier conferences in the state, bringing together a host of people working in diverse fields for the betterment of rural communities. The success of this conference stems partly from the “deep bench” they draw from, and we are all the better for it. People attending the conference are those who are making a difference in communities throughout Arizona.
Each year Local First Arizona chooses a location from one of Arizona’s many rural communities to host the event. It is both an honor and a huge responsibility for the host. And as a community, Globe-Miami rose to the occasion when we were selected as this year’s host. Key among the partners was Bullion Plaza Museum, headed by Executive Director Tom Foster, which provided the main facility for the conference’s keynote speakers and breakout sessions.
But a big shout out goes to the following local businesses as well, from Cobre Valley Center for the Arts and Demarco’s, who hosted the dinner on Thursday night, and Jordan Baker and her staff at Vida e Caffe, who catered breakfasts for over 300 people on both Thursday and Friday.
Strong mention also needs to go out to the Copper City Players—Kim Stone and Lee Ann Powers—who provided history and entertainment on Thursday evening for those who came downtown. The City had hoped to showcase Globe’s First Fridays, which has begun to attract thousands to the downtown district each month, but the event was canceled due to the unbelievable heat wave we’ve been experiencing. Still, the City brought in a live band on Oak Street, and Sip and Saddle were set up outside to serve the attendees on Thursday night.
Local First Arizona reported a sold-out conference, with 340 tribal and rural leaders attending this year. Workshops over the two-day event featured presentations on innovative ways people tackle community needs, such as building affordable housing, launching farmers’ markets, training a new generation of skilled workers, attracting families to move to small towns, finding grant funding to build infrastructure and renewable energy projects and more.
“It’s one of the best conferences I go to all year,” said Sally Holcomb of Bisbee, who works for Arizona Complete Health, a health insurer. “It’s outstanding for networking, and it’s truly representative of rural. It’s not being talked at, like ‘We know better.’ It’s,‘Here’s how this can help you.’ I always walk away with new connections and great resources I didn’t expect to have.”
Drake Meinke, director of the Arizona Copper Museum in Clarkdale, said he was the only person from his town to attend, but he planned to bring back what he learned to other residents and business owners who are part of the downtown business alliance.
Meinke said he is energized to see rural communities in Arizona experiencing a rebirth.
“The image in many folks’ heads about a rural community isn’t good, but then they come to a rural community, and they are blown away,” he said. “They are almost always overwhelmed at how good things are in my little town.”
According to Rebekah Sanders with Local First Arizona, one of the exciting new programs they’ve launched is the Arizona Economic Recovery Center.
Sanders explained that after the Great Recession in 2008, Arizona was the last state to return to pre-recession economic health. Local First Arizona didn’t want to see that happen after the COVID-19 pandemic too. So the organization launched the Arizona Economic Recovery Center in May 2021 to enable qualified Arizona cities, towns, counties, tribal communities, and non-profits to win competitive federal, state, and foundation grants by increasing their capacity to compete.
Grant writing and grant management were two of the biggest barriers to successfully competing for grant dollars. Local First now has over 30 grant writers on their roster, all with different areas of expertise.
“We provide no-cost grant research, writing, and management services to organizations throughout the state,” says Sanders. The program has assisted more than 800 organizations in securing more than $33 million dollars to fund projects including recreation facility renovations, tourism marketing, health care initiatives, bike paths, infrastructure, and more.
“None of the towns, tribes, and nonprofits we work with have a dedicated fundraising staff,” says Sanders. “Their employees are playing multiple roles so that grant-writing may be relegated to the wayside, or the staff may not have the expertise to write grants.” The Economic Recovery Center provides a successful, no-cost way to fill that gap.
You can find a step-by-step guide to working with the Recovery Center by visiting their website at www.localfirstaz.com/economic-recovery-center. Or contact Katie@localfirstaz.com for more information.
The Rural Policy Forum and the Economic Recovery Center are just two of the ways Local First Arizona is supporting small communities like Globe-Miami – and Globe-Miami’s civic organizations and small businesses are proud to partner with Local First in helping transform our state’s rural regions for the better.
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