Session Details

This year’s conference features sessions built around four tracks, inspiring plenaries, a Friday pre-session, networking opportunities, lunch and dinner on Saturday, May 19, breakfast on Sunday, May 20, and all conference-related materials.

Featured Speakers Include:

Becky McCray, Rural and Small Town Business Expert and Author
Delivering Practical Steps You Can Put into Action Right Away to Shape the Future of Your Town

Janet Topolsky, Executive Director, Community Strategies Group, The Aspen Institute
Helping Rural and Urban Community Leaders, Organizations, and Policymakers Across the Country Find, Create, and Spread Community and Economic Development Strategies That Work

Deborah Markley, Co-Founder and Managing Director, Center for Rural Entrepreneurship, a National Nonprofit Organization Supporting Business, Social, and Civic Entrepreneurs

Steve Brown, The Bald Futurist and CEO of Possibility & Purpose
World-Renowned Speaker, Author, Strategist, and Executive Coach

Please note, session details are subject to change. Check back often as we will continually update the website.

Friday, May 18, 1:00–4:00

Shift Happens: The BOLD Question Behind Rural Problems We All Face

Presented by Becky McCray, Rural and Small Town Business Expert

What are our common challenges in rural communities? Is it the loss of young people? Lack of volunteers? No funding? Missing out on opportunities? Downtown is dying?

Now, what are the real challenges underlying all of those? What if we missed a major shift that affects all of these? There’s one underlying factor that leads to the loss of young people, lack of volunteers, our dying downtowns, and all the rest: we’re too closed to new ideas. We’re trying to navigate our way into the future using the same old procedures that we inherited from the past. Young people feel shut out, so they move. New volunteers feel marginalized and forced into existing structures, so they stay home. Complex problems force us to build ever more complicated organizations and structures to face them. Do you see a pattern? Together in one afternoon, we’re going to use this insight to reshape the future of our towns into being open to new ideas, prosperous, moving forward, and Idea Friendly.

Cost of the pre-session is $45.

Friday, May 18, 6:00–8:00

Bridges Between Rural & Urban Networking Reception
Join us for conversation and networking over hor d’oeuvres and refreshments.
Hosted by The Ford Family Foundation
RSVP required. (Look for the RSVP option on the registration form.)

Saturday, May 19, 8:30–9:30

Welcome & Opener

Saturday, May 19, 9:30–10:00


Saturday, May 19, 10:00–11:30

Embracing Tomorrow’s Workforce: How Rural Communities Can Prepare Its Workforce for Tomorrow’s Jobs
Clues to Creating Entrepreneurial Success
A Watershed Moment Cascading Forward: Economic and Ecologic Approaches to Water Management in the Northwest
Roadmap for Building Community Networks: Presented by a Network of Rural Community Builders

Saturday, May 19, 11:45–12:45

Networking Lunch

Saturday, May 19, 1:00–2:30

Bring on the Broadband: Infrastructure in Rural
Transforming Rural Economies with Urban Market Demand
Participación de la Communidad
Opportunities to Invest in Rural: The Rebirth of Traditional Rural-Based Sectors
The Secret Sauce for Catalytic Community Building

Saturday, May 19, 2:30–3:00


Saturday, May 19, 3:00–4:30

Navigating the Challenges of Rural Housing
Rural Economic Diversification and Innovation: The New Growth Sectors
Align to Thrive: Philanthropy and Rural Prosperity
21st Century Forests
#WeAreRural: Perceptions of People and Economies in Rural Places

Saturday, May 19, 4:45–5:45


Saturday, May 19, 6:00–7:30

Dinner & Celebration

Saturday, May 19, 7:30–8:00


Sunday, May 20, 7:30–9:15 


Sunday, May 20, 9:30–11:00

The Future of Rural Farms, Ranches, & Businesses
Rural Community Shark Tank

Sunday, May 20, 11:00–12:00

Keynote: What If We Were Bold?