Perspectives on the Urban-Rural Divide

This is the first post in a series about reducing the divide between urban and rural communities.

The facts are stark. Economic change and recovery in our nation have resulted in vastly different opportunities and outcomes for individuals and families based on where they live. An urban-rural divide narrative is solidifying around these trends. It’s one that touts (or bemoans) the all-consuming growth of our nation’s largest cities and laments rural communities as devoid of economic potential. It juxtaposes urban and rural areas, pitting them against each other and, ultimately, isolating them from each other.

It’s time for the narrative to shift from urban-versus-rural to a shared economic future in which the two support each other.

Bridging the economic divide between urban and rural areas will require states, regions and localities to understand and bolster the relationship between urban and rural areas in economically meaningful and strategic ways.

For example, a study examining the interdependence between Minnesota’s urban and rural areas found that urban regions substantially benefit from improved prosperity in rural areas. Every $1 billion increase in rural manufacturing output produces a 16 percent increase in urban jobs and significant additional business-to-business transactions, statewide consumer spending and investment.

Similarly, a study of the Sacramento, California, region found that the majority of jobs and economic activity resulting from the region’s rural food and agriculture cluster occurred in urban areas.

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Integrated urban and rural areas can boost each other’s economies and cause a ripple effect of that success throughout the region and state. A viable path toward long term growth, then, is to strengthen these urban-rural economic interdependencies. NLC published research earlier this year, Bridging the Urban-Rural Economic Divide, that examines urban and rural divides in economic inputs, business environments and economic outcomes, and provides economic development policy recommendations.

The analysis confirms the importance of infrastructure connectivity and market access to the success of regions. Sustainable growth, then, hinges less on a place’s designation as urban or rural, and more on its economic connections.

This blog post series builds on that report, and provides specific examples of how urban and rural communities are economically vital to each other, why this matters to state economies and which policies can support these connections. You’ll hear from leaders at the local, regional, state and national level, as well as public and private sector partners.

As we continue to seek new ways of bridging the urban-rural economic divide, we’d love to hear from you. Why is building stronger regional economies important to you? How are you working to make a difference? Contact me at to share your thoughts.

Christy McFarland small.jpgAbout the Author: Christiana K. McFarland is NLC’s research director. Follow Christy on Twitter at @ckmcfarland.