Gettin’ rural in Myrtle

Gettin’ rural in Myrtle Main Photo

10 Nov 2023


Blue waves pushed in and out on the golden sand, but tides of a different kind were on the minds of professionals packing a conference room a few blocks away.

They were there for the National Rural Economic Developers Association 2023 Annual Conference in Myrtle Beach, with a theme of “Navigating the Changing Tides.”

Mitchell Kirk, Communications Director for the Hancock Economic Development Council, attended the conference November 8-10. He was one of over 160 professionals there working in and near economic development from rural areas across the United States. The event provided a wealth of information on enhancing the American countryside, and proved that bustling metropolises are far from the only places scoring economic development wins.

Two of the conference’s sessions focused on communication strategies, something right up Kirk’s alley. They were led by Jeff Black of Black Sheep Global, an engaging speaker who provided comprehensive guidance on interacting with people in a variety of formats, including one-on-one, in small groups, before large audiences, and even over web conferencing.

Days were filled with sessions led by experts detailing their experiences leading successes in their rural communities, like workforce housing programs, broadband initiatives, and financing partnerships.

A panel of site selectors provided invaluable insights into their world and things economic developers can do to work more seamlessly with their important profession. Electric capacity challenges were a significant part of this discussion, especially with power-heavy projects like data centers gaining popularity. Other subjects were speculative development; the importance of regionalism for storytelling and marketing; and the need to tout creative, unique solutions to workforce training to prospective developers.

One of the site selectors addressed ways economic developers can bolster their websites. The Hancock Economic Development Council is preparing to launch a new website, and Kirk was delighted to hear how its current draft ticked all of the site selector’s boxes.

The conference also provided a multitude of opportunities to mingle with fellow attendees and learn from their experiences.

“During one of the audience-interactive portions of one of the sessions, I mentioned how HEDC is preparing to launch a podcast,” Kirk said. “A few hours later at the evening’s networking reception, a gentleman behind me in the buffet line remembered me and started telling me about the podcast he produces for his organization. Before I know it, he’s handing me his business card and encouraging me to reach out if I ever have any questions. You just don’t get interactions like that sitting in your office. I’m incredibly grateful to the NREDA for providing this experience, and can’t wait to apply all that I’ve learned.”