Thank you to the 500 rural champions who helped make our 2018 Rural Assembly a success! On November 15-16 at the Hilton North Raleigh Midtown we continued our conversation about rural leadership and the critical role that innovation plays in a community’s ability to successfully achieve their goals for the future.

Revving the Rural Engine: Local Leaders Driving Innovation was two days full of content and conversations focused on how communities can use innovation to engage the next generation of rural leaders and help them to race toward their own better and brighter tomorrows.



James and Deborah Fallows

A vivid, surprising portrait of the civic and economic reinvention taking place in America, town by town and generally out of view of the national media. A realistically positive and provocative view of the country between its coasts.

For the last five years, James and Deborah Fallows have been traveling across America in a single-engine prop airplane. Visiting dozens of towns, they have met hundreds of civic leaders, workers, immigrants, educators, environmentalists, artists, public servants, librarians, business people, city planners, students, and entrepreneurs to take the pulse and understand the prospects of places that usually draw notice only after a disaster or during a political campaign.


Bill Bynum

For more than three decades, Bill Bynum has worked to advance economic opportunity for disenfranchised populations. He began his career in North Carolina by establishing nationally recognized programs at Self-Help and at the NC Rural Center. In 1994, Bynum moved to Mississippi to become the founding CEO of the Enterprise Corporation of the Delta, and in 1995 organized Hope Community Credit Union.

Today, HOPE (Hope Enterprise Corporation, Hope Credit Union, and Hope Policy Institute) has grown into a family of organizations that provide financial services, leverage resources, and engage in policy analysis that is meant to strengthen communities, build assets, and improve lives in Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee. Since 1994, HOPE has generated more than $2.5 billion in financing in order to benefit more than one million people in one of the nation’s most impoverished regions.


Scott Hamilton

Over the course of his career, Scott Hamilton has been at the forefront of regional economic development in North Carolina and across the nation. As the executive director of ARC, Hamilton works with his team to provide a wide range of programs including education and workforce training, highway construction, water and sewer system construction, leadership development, small business creation and expansion, energy, and health. Each year, he administers the distribution of hundreds of grants for local development and leads major regional initiatives in entrepreneurship, energy, telecommunications, export trade, and civic leadership. Additionally, he provides programmatic oversight for the 3,090-mile Appalachian Development Highway System.
Before joining ARC, Hamilton served in a leadership capacity with a variety of local and regional organizations, including AdvantageWest, Henderson County Partnership for Economic Development, Henderson County Chamber of Commerce, and the Caldwell County Economic Development Commission. Hamilton has also served as a board member for the NC Rural Center, the North Carolina Economic Development Board, and the North Carolina Economic Developers Association. He also served for 11 years as a gubernatorial appointee to the North Carolina Commission on Workforce Development.


Click HERE to View the 2018 Rural Assembly Agenda.

Awards in Excellence

Each year, the Rural Center recognizes individuals, organizations, and towns that have demonstrated visionary leadership, impacted the economy, and built strong community partnerships. At this year’s 2018 Rural Assembly, we will award nominees from within five categories: leadership, advocacy, entrepreneurship, small town growth and vitality, and small business lending.


Rural Leader of the Year: Randolph KeatonThis award recognizes a REDI or Homegrown Leaders alumnus who, through strong leadership, hard work, and dedication, has enhanced the quality of life in rural North Carolina and made significant improvements in his or her community, region, and/or the state. This individual is committed to building partnerships and engaging with all of the citizens in their community.


Rural Advocate of the Year: Senator Harry Brown

Rural Advocate of the Year: Representative Susan Martin

This award recognizes a rural champion who has made a significant impact on rural development through their leadership in the public sphere. Whether by serving in elected office at the local, state, or federal level; by leading efforts to influence policies in support of rural development; or by inspiring others to work together to improve their communities, this advocate exemplifies the Rural Center’s approach to collaborative, thoughtful civic engagement in support of rural North Carolinians.


Rural Entrepreneur of the Year: Alimentaire Wholesome BreadsThis award recognizes an entrepreneur who is making a significant impact on their local economy through job creation, sales, and revenue generation. This individual serves as a mentor to other entrepreneurs and takes a leadership role in their community. The entrepreneur must have a business, located in one of the 80 rural counties of North Carolina, which currently generates revenue and demonstrates growth and long-term potential. The nominee should have made a significant impact in the local economy through job creation, sales, or increased overall economic vitality.


Small Town of the Year: Marion, NCThis award recognizes a town that embraces citizen engagement, values diversity, and fosters strong partnerships. The town must promote innovative economic development initiatives and programs as well as an entrepreneur-friendly environment. The nominee must demonstrate how they have overcome economic barriers and challenges as well as being creative, diligent, and resourceful in building an economic future for all of its residents.


Community Bank of the Year: First BankThis award is given to a financial institution that is a leading lending partner who provides excellent customer service to North Carolina’s small businesses. The winner of this award exemplifies the work of the NC Rural Center’s Loan Participation Program, which reduces private lenders’ loan risk in order to help them fund the creation and expansion of small businesses throughout North Carolina. With 26 partner lenders, the program has supported more than 8,300 North Carolina jobs and leveraged more than $400 million of private funding.

Partners & Sponsors



Brooks Pierce | Mt. Olive Pickles | NC Community Colleges



Jenny Grant
Executive Team Manager
[email protected]

Media inquiries:

Todd Brantley
Senior Director of Public Affairs
[email protected]