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IIRA-Sponsored Coalition of State Rural Policy Centers Conference in Springfield This Week

October 24, 2012

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MACOMB, IL — The Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs (IIRA) at Western Illinois University sponsored the Coalition of State Rural Policy Centers conference this week at the Hilton Downtown in Springfield (IL), according to IIRA Director Chris Merrett. The conference, an informal collaboration among state rural research and policy centers, opened with a comprehensive overview of IIRA's development and programs in rural Illinois presented by Merrett and former director Norman Walzer, along with other IIRA staff.

Lt. Governor Sheila Simon, also in attendance, was presented with an overview of each center (by a representative of each of the participating centers) of each center's organizational structure, range of programs and current initiatives or developments. The introductions were followed by a review of Illinois' Rural Life Poll and listening forums, including an open discussion of their findings.

"Lt. Governor George Ryan conducted rural listening posts throughout Illinois in 1986, establishing the Governor's Rural Affairs Council the following year. The Rural Affairs Council, the IIRA and Illinois Rural Partners (a non-profit organization) conducted listening posts throughout Illinois again in 1998, 2000 and 2007. These forums provide an opportunity to gather input directly from our rural constituents," Merrett said.

Highlights of the conference also included an update by Chuck Fluharty of the Rural Policy Research Institute (RUPRI), an organization that serves as convener for the Coalition. Fluharty's discussion provided an update on the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture's cooperative agreement, the Rural Futures Lab, collaborations of the Regional Resource Development Center (RRDC) and such federal issues as the Farm Bill and the Rural Council.

Thomas Watson of Rural Support Partners (located in Asheville, NC) presented the conceptual model currently under development by Ford Foundation and partners, sharing considerations of the rural landscape and natural resources. Other presentations included "Strategies of the CHS Foundation to Address Rural Issues," which was delivered by CHS Foundation President William Nelson, as well as "Regional Development: The Minnesota Model," by Tim Penney of the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation.

"The Coalition of State Rural Policy Centers functions as a learning network," Merrett noted. "We meet periodically to update our members regarding initiatives and activities that will help us determine how our common goals might benefit all. We also try to include external speakers who will provide fresh perspectives for our members."

Initiatives of most centers include in-house studies and providing sponsorship or support to external studies and surveys, as well as publishing newsletters and convening meetings on the state, regional and local levels for individuals or organizations. All centers work with policymakers to help develop rural policy for their states, and the centers in Illinois, Minnesota and Pennsylvania also contribute through institutional research programs.

Learn more about the Coalition of State Rural Policy Centers at Learn more about the Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs at

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