Last week saw the launch of the Big Lottery Wales £13.5 million rural grant programme with community groups in Anglesey, Gwynedd, Conwy, Denbighshire, Powys, Ceredigion, Pembrokeshire, Carmarthenshire and Monmouthshire being invited to submit projects to tackle rural poverty.
Over the last few years I have had opportunity to work with groups focused on rural development, both as chair of the Ministerial advisory group on the Rural Development Programme and with more hands on work with PLANED the community led rural development agency in Pembrokeshire .
The EU Rural Development Programme has contributed significantly to the viability of communities across rural Wales and I would particularly highlight the role of the LEADER programme in enabling community led solutions to building enterprising local communities.
Looking to the short term opportunity of the Big Lottery investment but also the longer term need to consider how best we invest in rural development post Brexit, it is important we that consider the critical success factors that have an influence on the likely levels of enterprise and entrepreneurship our rural communities. Here are my top 6 based on transnational experience from Leader projects and which were included in the advisory group report to the Minister :
1. Local Resources
Understanding, marketing and maximising use of all local resources including natural resources, physical resources, culture, heritage people skills is an essential element in successful enterprise in rural areas. A “sense of place” is a critical dimension to any successful enterprise. “What makes an area different is also what makes it interesting and marketable”. Entrepreneurial communities review their resources and assets and maximise the potential for differentiation creating rural “anchor” companies – which are anchored to the natural resources and values of their communities. In my part of rural Wales it is companies such as Princes Gate Spring Water, Puffin Produce, Folly Farm, and Bluestone who provide this economic anchor and entrepreneurial leadership.
2. Networks for Entrepreneurship
There is strong evidence to indicate level of entrepreneurship can be developed through improving the networks and opportunities for contacts with successful entrepreneurs. The development of a local network of businesses to support new business start ups is key to creating a local culture of entrepreneurship. Enterprise facilitation models such as those developed through the Sirolli Foundation www.sirolli.org focus on the key role of the facilitator in signposting and connecting the potential entrepreneur to business networks
3. Community Support
It is important to work with the whole community in developing positive attitudes towards enterprise development and building the local economy. Pembrokeshire’s local economy has benefited from PLANED’s work with communities in building local action plans focused on increasing the local economic multiplier through increasing understanding of the contribution of local purchasing to community wellbeing. We can also expand community “ownership” of enterprises in areas such as local energy schemes which can provide locally owned long term economic assets. Community Energy schemes can be part of a transformational change for many communities.
4 Marketing, Business Skills and Finance
Many rural entrepreneurs are driven by a passion or by necessity of having to diversify from traditional rural livelihoods and can lack the necessary business and specifically marketing skills needed for success. Unlocking local money to finance healthy, diversified local economies must be a key focus with enhancement of the function of Credit Union functions and promising new models in crowdfunding, community supported enterprise, local investment clubs, and other ways to connect local businesses with l lenders and investors
5. Clusters and Networks
The role of business clusters in economic development is well established but in more rural areas it is often more difficult to form and sustain formal networks and links between local businesses. Informal or formal development of business clusters and networks critically provide a focus for business development within the community and provide support for individual business owners, while maximise marketing spend and routes to market for each business. The development of Rural Growth Zones provides a structure for development with the focus around key rural centres providing distinctive products and services supported by a package of measures including rate relief, improved infrastructure etc
6. Technology and Infrastructure
Access to broadband technology has a critical bearing on the ease with which business can be conducted in remote areas. Local networks and purchasing are important elements in successful rural enterprise, but high speed broadband networks provide access to global markets and expertise. The commitment to provide access to fast broadband across rural Wales provides a transformational opportunity to improve the economic potential of rural Wales, reducing the disadvantage of distance from markets and poor transport links
We need to ensure that our investment support is designed to focus on addressing these critical success factors that enable enterprise and entrepreneurship in rural communities. We can build on great individual examples of leadership such as the Pentre Solar development and well experienced organisations such as Menter Mon, Cadwyn Clwyd who have successful track records in applying the LEADER principles to grow enterprising communities. However success in addressing rural poverty will require a far more focused, joined up approach to investment in rural development than we have had to date.