Annual Rural Policy Forum hits the Gila Valley

Brooke Curley Photo/Gila Valley Central: Graham County hosted he 11th annual Rural Policy Forum, which stretched over two days, starting on Thursday and ending Friday afternoon.

By Brooke Curley

THATCHER – Movers and shakers from multiple counties attended this year’s 11th annual Rural Policy Forum to learn from the speakers, gain perspective, and make connections.

Boasting a program that lasted nearly two days, the Arizona Rural Policy Forum (ARPF) is a yearly event created by the Arizona Rural Development Council. The council believes that by working within the small communities through grassroots movements, the communities can create a bolstering economic change from within while preserving and honoring their heritage.

This year’s ARPF was mainly located at the Eastern Arizona College Visitor’s Center. Peter Kageyama, founder of Creative Cities Summit, and Deb Nelson, founder, and president of DLN Consulting Inc were the keynote speakers. After the keynote speakers, a variety of classroom-style lectures were held, as well as multiple panels. A massive variety of topics were discussed, from nonprofit collaboration and strategies for mental health and substance use in rural communities to implementing micro-loans for small businesses.

Safford Councilman Michael Andazola Sr. told Gila Valley Central that he appreciated this year’s presentations because it was an educational experience to individuals living in the rural areas of the Gila Valley.

“What I liked about the presentation was that it opened up the rural state of mind to open doors and set an extra plate at the table with conversation and an invitation for people to return their attention back to our rural community,” Andazola said.

Graham County Substance Abuse Coalition Coordinator Kathy Grimes told Gila Valley Central this was her first year attending the event, but it had been educational and useful so far.

‘What I really like about it is that it’s geared to rural, and that’s what we know,” Grimes said. “And so it helps us with ideas that we can incorporate into our own community. There is lots of great information. The keynote speaker yesterday was amazing, and he provided me with ideas on activities that I want to incorporate into our community through prevention and focusing on families.”

Graham County Chamber of Commerce Director Patrick O’Donnell was one of the multiple local presenters at this year’s forum. O’Donnell told Gila Valley Central that the forum was a wonderful way to exhibit the successes that Graham County has achieved. Also, O’Donnell hopes that the individuals traveling with the forum will return to Graham County after having spent some time in the area.

“The rural Policy Form is a great opportunity for Graham County to showcase the successes that we’ve had as a small community, especially with our international ties that we showcased on Wednesday with the economic development tour,” O’Donnell said. “Having 250 people here as ambassadors to what they were able to enjoy and then take back to their community will be a real plus for returned tourism, which will benefit the community and all the businesses.”

The forum was only one of the many aspects of the event. Individuals participating in the forum were given pre-conference tours to learn about Graham County’s economic developments. Also, there was a dinner put on for attendees by multiple local restaurants. After the activities, the main lectures began Thursday and concluded Friday afternoon.

Kimber Lanning, the Executive Director of the Local First Arizona Foundation, told Gila Valley Central that the economic development tour was specifically amazing this year. Also, she said that the conference is a great opportunity to anyone in the community to attend.

“The economic development tour was remarkable,” Lanning said. “We were able to go around and visit a lot of the brilliant businesses you have here like Sun Pumps and Open Loop Energy. We got to visit the mine, we got to go to DRG Technologies, so a there was a wide variety of things. We also heard from the Mount Graham Observatory and Discovery Park, so all of that combined just blew people’s minds. This is a conference that’s not just for economic developers or people in tourism in anything. It’s really a valuable conference to come to. Next year, we’re going to be in Wickenburg. But it’s a great conference to learn about the issues that are specific to rural areas, and the networking is the most powerful part of it. The contacts that are made here are really great for everyone in their place to just strengthen rural Arizona.”

For more information on the Rural Policy Forum, visit