The project advisory group recently looked at Reimagining Rural Business Opportunities, a collection of articles published in 2017 by the EU Review, providing a useful overview of different rural characteristics and the potential for innovation and growth. While the report provides fresh thinking on effective business support, it also reassuringly reinforces the LEADER approach, already embedded into rural economic development practices in Carmarthenshire.
Rural areas are undergoing considerable change driven by new technology, especially digital, environmental pressures and climate change, demographic pressures involving in migration of older people, and out migration of younger people, as well as changing political and market dynamics. Whilst the changes are challenging, they also provide sources of new economic opportunity.
Despite the similarity of these strategic challenges faced by rural areas across Europe, communities will of course have particular localised challenges. Policies and programmes need to be nuanced and flexible enough to allow the business community to make the most of modern business potential in their area.
The sole focus of one article is rural digital hubs, favoured as a means of harnessing economic potential. Several case studies provide evidence that offering fast, reliable internet access, physical spaces for working and networking, and a range of business and community support services can enable a local area to realise its latent potential.
One of the key ideas articulated is the need for smarter business support, moving away from models that limit themselves to ‘one-off’ interventions, towards a flexible approach that accompanies the entrepreneur along a ‘support itinerary’ through an ecosystem of support services.
The role of the Rural Development Programmes (RDPs) in supporting rural business change and development is also considered. Whilst RDPs have effective tools and intervention measures, they can only work if they are used in a way that responds to business needs in different places, sectors and stages of development. Whilst RDP support won’t be directly accessible to Wales in future, there are useful lessons from the Basque Country case study featured, not least because the region is one of Wales’s strategic partners. The Basque Country’s Katilu project aims to create a lively and attractive rural environment and generate new business models, products and services, using knowledge transfer, mutual learning and cooperation.
Case studies, illustrations and infographics throughout the articles help to present the complex strategic challenges being faced by rural communities and ideas on harnessing the opportunities, in a useful and informative way.
To view the full feasibility assessment and accompanying reports see below: