Duluth hosts four-day international conference on rural development

Melinda Rogers

The University is one of three sponsors hosting the first-ever Joint International Summit on Community and Rural Development in Duluth from July 22-25.

This year’s conference expands on the annual Minnesota Rural Summit by including national and international rural development agencies.

Borrowing the title of a song by former University student Bob Dylan, the summit’s theme is “The Times They Are A-Changing,” reflecting participants’ views about rural development progress around the world.

“The summit presents an opportunity to highlight community successes and to find new ways to leverage knowledge and resources,” said Charles Muscoplat, dean of the College of Agriculture.

“The University’s goal is to see what we can do to develop policy and foster rural development,” he added.

Workshops, presentations and panel discussions will focus on six rural development issues: diversity, globalization, human services, rural/urban coalitions, technology and models for sustainable rural community development.

The summit is expected to draw more than 1,200 people from 15 countries. Featured speakers include Tommy Thompson, U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, and Kate O’Dubhchair, designer of the European Union’s rural policy statement.

“The University will provide (the summit) with strength of knowledge and research-based information,” said Carla Carlson, chief of staff in the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Science.

University sponsorship for the event costs $30,000. Carlson said funding for the summit was earmarked in the fall of 2000; nine University departments and the Minnesota Extension Service donated the money.

Summit participants prepared for this week’s conference by posting questions and chatting in an online rural policy forum.

Marcie McLaughlin, executive director of Minnesota Rural Partners, said Web-based tools have been important for generating summit discussion topics.

“The online rural policy forum offers those interested in communities the chance to raise questions and exchange insights on rural issues,” she said in a statement.

McLaughlin said questions from the online forum will be analyzed and presented during the final summit session July 25.

For the next four days, McLaughlin said she hopes people working together can improve rural development policy.

“The summit is an opportunity to learn from scholars and practitioners and to exchange the best practices that will support healthy communities,” she said.