Charles Fluharty, a rural development expert, took to the Rieth Recital Hall on Tuesday Feb. 11, as part of GC’s Yoder Public Affairs lecture series.

Fluharty began by introducing what he called his “rural bias” to the audience, showing pictures of the farm that had been in his family for generations and attributing his happiest childhood memories to that land and lifestyle.

Fluharty is the founder, president and CEO of the Rural Policy Research Institute, the only U.S. Policy Institute dedicated solely to researching the effects of public policies on rural populations.

RUPRI works to communicate with politicians about the rural implications of proposed policies, especially the importance of recognizing the value in rural lands, establishing integrated structures within communities and thinking of the next generation. 

He said people tend to assume that a place is either urban or rural and that urban areas will control the future of our society. Fluharty proposed that the urban-rural dichotomy is a spectrum and that rural areas are just as important within their counties. He stressed the importance of including everyone in discussions about the future of our society and economy. 

“Every place matters in your economy,” he said.

Through his work in the Appalachian region of Kentucky, Fluharty discovered that the best way to improve areas struck with economic issues is to consult the local people. Thanks to ideas and strong support from community members, the area saw a drastic improvement, especially in education programs, he said.

“Individual projects almost never have lasting impacts,” he said.

Fluharty explained that building relationships and learning with rural residents takes time, which makes it unappealing to politicians who want quick solutions. He pointed out that they tend to view these rural areas in terms of short-term, economic growth. Eventually, policymakers come back to consult with him because although a strong, collaborative system is not easy to create, it has the potential for sustainable positive results.

Fluharty added that GDP isn’t the best measure of growth because it doesn’t measure the long-term value of an area or consider the ways in which a system needs to change in order to thrive as the new generations enter the workforce. 

Further information and additional stories related to the topics discussed can be found at the Elkhart County Historical Museum in Bristol, a co-sponsor for the lecture along with Goshen College. The traveling Smithsonian exhibit “Crossroads: Change in Rural America'” will be on display at the museum until March 15, 2020.