Model & Strategy

America’s rural communities are facing an economic crisis. The engines of opportunity—high paying jobs and investment in new businesses—have increasingly concentrated in urban areas, leading to housing and transportation crises in cities as reluctant rural residents migrate to seek employment. The Center on Rural Innovation (CORI) is an action tank committed to closing the rural opportunity gap by building resilient digital economies in America’s small towns. CORI’s Rural Opportunity Map helps local leaders, funders, and policymakers understand rural communities’ challenges and opportunities, the Rural Innovation Network supports communities around the country as they build thriving entrepreneurial ecosystems, and the CORI Innovation Fund invests directly in rural entrepreneurs.

CORI’s comprehensive systems approach includes developing high-impact models for education and training, entrepreneurship support, targeted placemaking, direct investment, and data tools, while building a community of practice for local leaders working to create jobs for the future in the context of their unique community assets.

The vision: As active players in the tech economy, rural Americans will realize the full potential of the internet, driving innovation rather than being at the mercy of automation as the pace of change accelerates. Strong digital economies will allow rural communities to chart their own courses toward prosperity and move our country toward geographic equity.

At a Glance
Founded: 2017
Founder & Executive Director: Matt Dunne
Economic Empowerment
Location of work: Domestic
Center on Rural Innovation
Hartland, VT
Proving that small towns can thrive in the digital age.
Meet Matt Dunne

Matt Dunne founded the Center on Rural Innovation out of a growing concern that the opportunity gap between rural and urban areas threatens our nation’s long-term sustainability and even our democracy. Matt has deep rural roots, balanced by world-class experience in public service and tech. He grew up on a farm in rural Vermont, and after he graduated from Brown, he returned to his hometown and decided to run for office. He served 11 years in the Vermont House and Senate, enacting the state’s first broadband grants, brownfields revitalization funding, and downtown redevelopment program. At the same time, his experience helping grow a Vermont-based software company to over 100 people taught him that tech companies can thrive in rural places.

As director of AmeriCorps*VISTA under President Clinton, Matt led PowerUp, one of the first national efforts to bridge the digital divide, and launched an Entrepreneur Corps to focus on micro-finance in high-need communities. Later, he started Google’s Community Affairs division out of a former bread factory in White River Junction, Vermont, where he led all local US philanthropy and engagement, including the Google Fiber rollout and orchestrating educational and development initiatives in Google’s data center communities across rural America. After a one year appointment to the MIT Media Lab, Matt launched the Center on Rural Innovation to ensure small-town America can thrive in the new economy.

Impact

The Rural Innovation Network is expanding from helping ten communities build digital economy ecosystems in 2019 to supporting twenty communities in 2020.

Each community is producing skilled tech workers, creating jobs at higher than the median wage, and helping entrepreneurs start new scalable businesses.

With CORI’s support, four network communities have received highly competitive Regional Innovation Strategies grants from the US Economic Development Administration, for a combined $6.7 million in federal funding and matching dollars.

CORI’s Rural Opportunity Map 1.0 has been used more than 10,000 times to surface opportunity in rural communities across the country, and Rural Opportunity Map 2.0 launches at the end of 2019.

CORI brings the voices of rural communities and entrepreneurs to the table in national coalition building and policy conversations, helping funders, journalists, policymakers, and other stakeholders understand opportunity in rural America.