New Live Wide Open virtual event offers rural insights into pandemic

Let’s Rural Together! is the theme of the inaugural summit, a five-day, noon-hour virtual event featuring topics critical for anyone hoping to learn ways to grow their community.

As rural communities look to grow and reinvent themselves in 2020, what trends and opportunities await? What has changed and how can they adapt? Who can inspire people to look ahead or think outside the box?

West Central Initiative’s regional growth initiative, Live Wide Open, offers a chance to learn over lunch for a week in September and hear different perspectives.

Let’s Rural Together! is the theme of the inaugural summit, a five-day, noon-hour virtual event featuring topics critical for anyone hoping to learn ways to grow their community. The event takes place via Zoom from noon to 1:15 p.m., each day Monday through Friday, Sept. 14 through 18. Registration is $25 for all five presentations and available now at .

Live Wide Open coordinator, Rick Schara, says that when planning for the event began in 2018, the summit was going to be a two-day in-person conference. “The pandemic caused us to go virtual,” he said. “And our speakers will be acknowledging the changing landscape and sharing insights and solutions” due to the pandemic.

Schara said while the presenters won’t focus on the pandemic, “They are true professionals who are finding new and creative ways to bring economic hope and opportunities for everyone, including small towns, cities, and rural homes.” He added that presentations will be aimed at people who want to see growth in their community, including city and school leaders, business owners, artists, non-profits, food producers, agriculture firms, healthcare workers, and economic developers.


The lineup includes:

Monday, Sept. 14 – Opening keynote by Gil Penalosa, “Once In a Lifetime Opportunity To Heal Our Cities.” Penalosa has inspired and advised decision makers in more than 350 different cities around the world on how to create vibrant cities with healthy communities where all people can live happier, regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, ability, or socio-economic status.

Tuesday, Sept. 15 – Dr. Dipesh Navsaria, “How Social Policy May Affect the Cognitive Development of Children.” Navsaria is the associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

Wednesday, Sept. 16 - Robin David and Molly Hilligoss, “Creating a Community Welcoming for All.” This session will give you the tools to craft equitable approaches and policies, make connections through art and culture, and engage newcomers to support and build the local economy. David is a 2018 Bush Leadership Fellow.Hilligoss leads the City of Grand Forks Welcoming Community Roadmap, a five-year community-wide strategic plan to ensure all newcomers have opportunities to grow, connect, and contribute.

Thursday, Sept. 17 – Agricultural Utilization Research Institute, AURI, panel, “Helping Communities Thrive Through On-Farm, Value-Added Ag Innovations.” Because agriculture will always be one of the pillars of our rural economy, how can towns work with local producers to create economic development? Innovation is the key and this session shares success stories, proven ideas that could work almost anywhere.

Friday, Sept. 18 – Trista Harris, “The Future Started Yesterday.” Harris is president of FutureGood, a consultancy focused on growing a movement of visionaries dedicated to building a better future.

For full details and registration information, go to . Or contact Rick Schara at


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