The Rural Center works with North Carolina’s 85 rural counties to “develop, promote and implement” comprehensive economic solutions and strategies to improve the lives of rural North Carolinians. The Rural Center is based in Raleigh, NC and caters their work to communities with limited resources and individuals and families with low to moderate incomes.

General About the Organization/Mission

Throughout the state, The Rural Center is a leader in improving the quality of life for rural North Carolinians. The Center’s mission is supported by various programs that operate under four main goals:

  • Serve as North Carolina’s leader in rural policy advocacy
  • Foster economic and social transformation by developing innovative strategies
  • Provide resources to rural people, businesses, and communities
  • Support and prepare rural leaders across the state for future success

To achieve its vision of a prosperous and thriving rural North Carolina, the Center developed a series of guiding principles to ensure all their work supports the mission in an ethical and effective manner.

Putting People First – The Center’s mission and the driver of their work are people – the individuals and families who live rural North Carolina.

A Comprehensive Approach – Economic development is a combined effort and should include education and training in the work force, improving physical infrastructure, improved financial and technical support for businesses, and encouraging innovation and the capacity of rural leaders, organizations and institutions.

Commitment to Innovation – Sustainable economic strategies come from partnerships and collaboration and provide creative and feasible solutions.

Impact through Collaboration and Resource Leveraging – Widespread, long-lasting change takes time, especially in rural North Carolina. The Rural Center partners with all stakeholders – including but not limited to governmental officials, non-profit leaders, and members of the faith community, etc. – to leverage resources and create the largest affect possible.

Celebration of Diversity – Intentionality is key when working with a diverse group of people, from diversity found in race, gender, ethnicity, age groups, skills, interests, and cultures, The Center aims to incorporate and respect all people of rural North Carolina, which requires an acceptable and celebration of the differences across the state.

Accountable, Evaluation, and Replication – Lastly, the Center wants to remain relevant and accountable for their mission. Accountability is set in place with a process of evaluating the Center after project completion, which specifically takes notes of new partnerships or leadership formed.

Basic Info

Type of Organization Non-profit
Primary Contact

Nora Mayo, Receptionist

Email: [email protected]

(919) 250-4314

Contact The Rural Center

Social Media



Issues of Focus

The Rural Center believes the future of rural North Carolina is promising and positive. By continuing to dedicate time and energy to the advancement of rural life, the Center believes issues will be resolved and barriers crossed, particularly these four visions: 

  • Economic independence can only occur in communities that provide jobs with livable wages, safe and supportive work environments, and room for advancement. 
  • Innovative and sustainable development of new and existing businesses creates prosperity and entrepreneurship 
  • Maintain the transportation systems, information technologies, and business relationships to allow rural communities to keep up with the global economy
  • High maintenance standards of public infrastructure to ensure quality water and wastewater facilities, to promote health and development
  • Increase quality of life in rural communities from public education, affordable housing to a clean environment. 
  • Allow rural communities to plan their own futures and implement sustainable, community-based economic decisions

History of Organization

A study in 1986 revealed a huge disparity between rural and urban North Carolina – as urban cities experienced growing success, rural communities were struggling to stay above the poverty line. Alarmed by these findings, the North Carolina Commission on Jobs and Economic Growth declared a need for a non-profit organization dedicated to rural economic development across the state. The organization would provide demonstrations, trainings, conduct research, resources, and work with both public and private organizations to kick start rural economic development. A group of state leaders formed the North Carolina Rural Economic Development Center with start-up assistance from the Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation, the Z Smith Reynolds Foundation, and R.J. Reynolds Tobacco. In 1987, the Rural Center was established and was recognized as the first organization in the country exclusively dedicated to state rural advancement. 

Programs and Projects 

The Business Program provides resources to business, to help build and sustain a strong and localized private sector. Successful businesses become communities with steady economic development.

The New Generation Initiative opens the door to opportunity for young people living in rural communities. Young people who participate learn the skills necessary to become community leaders, start a business, and become qualified for jobs in high-demand fields. Community participation is encouraged to learn the best ways to engage youth and young adults in daily economic and civic life. The Initiative includes three programs: New Generation Ventures – for young entrepreneurs, New Generation Leaders – grants to mobilize youth leaders, and New Generation Communities – provides training and resources.

The Rural Economic Development Institute (REDI) is the Rural Center’s most famed leadership training program.  REDI tackles leadership training with two methods; providing techniques to strengthen community leaders’ skill set and increasing knowledge surrounding economic and community development strategies and tools to address rural issues. During a series of intensive classes, REDI covers different approaches to increasing economic development, provides a quality curriculum, practical application of skills, a participatory learning process, collaboration, and opportunities for networking. 

The NC Small Towns Economic Prosperity Program (NC STEP) focuses on the growth and development of NC small towns and the rejuvenation of their economics. While the program is no longer offered by the Rural Center, the tools and guiding principles are still available for use. NC STEP uses a four step process to revive and start fresh. The first step begins with coaching, which involves working with a community guide who provides guidance and recommendations. The second step is training, which is pretty simple – community members attend trainings, workshops, and share information to benefit the town for present and future generations. Working together with all stakeholders in the community, the third step is planning. Planning involves designing an economic development strategy that fits the entire community's needs. The fourth and final step is grants, which provides the necessary financial support to implement their personalized economic development strategies. 

For more information about NC STEP, visit the NC STEP webpage.

Partners and Frequent Collaborators

  • Growing American Through Entrepreneurship (GATE)
  • Business Link North Carolina
  • The NC Capital Access Program

Future Developments for This Wiki