Growing Rural Oregon (GRO)
Growing Rural Oregon (GRO) believes rural economic development is dynamic and requires continuous community engagement, and that rural entrepreneurs are foundational to sustained economic vitality and prosperity. Launched in 2021, GRO supports rural communities in building a culture of trust, collaboration, and cooperation across sectors, reducing barriers and empowering rural entrepreneurs’ success.
Alongside local leadership teams, the GRO Team helps participating communities identify opportunities, share and leverage best practices, initiate networks, and connect to new ideas, resources, and industry leaders. GRO communities participate in a cohort designed to encourage shared learning and support a network of rural communities committed to strong entrepreneurial growth and “bottom up” economic development across Oregon. All participating communities make a 3 to 5-year commitment to utilizing the GRO framework. They receive targeted coaching, funding for GRO-focused staff, and other benefits.
GRO utilizes a framework developed in close collaboration with e2 Entrepreneurial Ecosystems, a leader in rural economic development with more than 30 years of experience in the field. The e2 framework has been field tested for nearly two decades by NetWork Kansas and dozens of other communities across the United States. GRO is managed by the Oregon Economic Development Districts (OEDD) with implementation and community coaching by the Central Oregon Intergovernmental Council, and funded by The Ford Family Foundation and Oregon Community Foundation.
Learn more about the GRO framework and our guiding values below. Explore the communities currently participating in the first GRO cohort, find resources and media about the entrepreneurial ecosystem approach, and meet the GRO team on our other pages. To get in touch with the GRO team and to learn how to get involved in a future GRO cohort, send us a message using the Contact Us tab. We look forward to hearing from you!
About the GRO Framework
GRO commits to working with each participating community for 3 to 5 years. That time span means we can work with all kinds of communities – those who have systems in place, those who have done this work for a long time, and those who are brand new in their efforts to support entrepreneurship. A flexible framework allows us to meet communities where they are at and take the time, alongside their local leaders and stakeholders, to apply the framework to their unique needs. GRO’s funders understand change doesn’t happen overnight and rural communities are often creatures of habit. This gives participating communities the ability to make changes on the timeline that works best for them and allows the time for meaningful investment. GRO also supports the development of collaborative statewide networks of experts and high-quality data collection and research to further the field of rural economic development.
“Every community has entrepreneurial talent, but every community does not have an entrepreneurial ecosystem.”
Our Guiding Values & Beliefs
Every town has entrepreneurial talent – people who have ideas to make money and provide jobs, or to change the civic and non-profit landscape and improve the lives of their neighbors. Our framework helps local leaders with proven tools and resources, as well as the connections to financing to help local entrepreneurs succeed.
Impacts and outcomes from entrepreneur-led development are incremental. Each year entrepreneurial ventures make new investments and hire some employees adding only modest pressure on a rural community’s ability to accommodate growth (e.g., housing, schools, childcare, etc.). As more entrepreneurial ventures grow, others fill voids to build capacity for that growth by expanding housing, childcare and other essentials to support work and population growth. Because entrepreneurial development typically does not require large tax abatements, local tax bases expand with this kind of growth, enabling cities, counties, and school districts to grow and sustainably accommodate economic and population growth!
None of our work is done without the direct involvement and support of local people. Our framework is built on outreach, involvement, voice, and ownership at the local level. We challenge locals to employ an entrepreneurial mindset, to celebrate and share successes, and use our framework to build networks of mentors, leaders, business people, and citizens. Building this ecosystem is a job that is owned and shared by the whole community – successes are celebrated collectively and networks created give support and advice when problems arise.
This model, over seventeen years of use in Kansas, has shown that when rural economic development takes a grassroots approach and focuses on entrepreneurship, it not only has a major impact on newly created, growing, and transitioning small businesses, but creates positive changes that benefit the whole community.
Network Kansas and e2’s system of entrepreneur-led development is the backbone of GRO’s framework. Transforming work in communities like Ord, Nebraska and in Keene, New Hampshire, in Central Appalachia, and in rural Minnesota have helped bring these communities back from economic despair. Please read more about these communities on our resources page.
Over time, as these cities and many others like them have embraced entrepreneurship and seen their economies grow, the benefits have been enjoyed by all residents. Increased tax bases have brought more social services, streetscape improvements, and better schools. Their better diversified and more stable economies are much more adaptive and prepared for change, and the support of local people and local ideas have created unique amenities that have inspired new resident in-migration and more robust investment in their cities.