Volume XV | Issue 1 | Spring 2015
Economic development is a long-term commitment, says Nancy Straw, the director of The Ford Family Foundation’s new program on community economic development. Photo: Nora Vitz Harrison

A long-term focus and effort

New program launched for community economic development

“If the viability of rural communities is to exist in a more sustainable way, then more has to be done in the area of economic development, and I don’t think there is any other organization [other than The Ford Family Foundation] in the state that is more likely to try.”

— Charlie Walker
President Emeritus, Linfield College, and
Founding Board Member, 
The Ford Family Foundation

Charlie Walker was a friend of Kenneth Ford. Walker was also instrumental in helping Kenneth Ford shape his legacy. In the 1970s, Walker and Ford, the founder of Roseburg Forest Products and one of the co-founders of The Ford Family Foundation, talked for months about what Ford wanted to accomplish through The Ford Family Foundation.

In a 2011 interview in Community Vitality, Walker reflected on how the Foundation has realized many of Ford’s goals and missed on others. “The element we have developed least fully is economic development,” he said.

Grant application criteria are still being finalized.

This year, The Ford Family Foundation is finally developing that element. It has embarked on a new program that supports rural communities taking action to improve local conditions. 

“The work of the new Community Economic Development program will support rural communities that have come together, built local capacity and made a commitment to a community-improvement agenda,” says Anne Kubisch, president of The Ford Family Foundation. “The program complements the Ford Institute for Community Building, which helps to build the capacity of rural communities and their residents.”

During the development year in 2015, a few qualified grant requests for programs, projects, operating costs, capacity building, capital projects and research will be funded. Please check back for updates as the program criteria for grant applications are finalized for 2016.

Nancy Straw, a national expert who has managed community economic development efforts in Minnesota for more than 15 years, joined the Foundation in January to direct the new program. We sat down with her for more information.

What is your background in economic development?

I spent 18 years with a philanthropic organization in Minnesota that did business development and lending. We did  “gap” lending — when a business owner didn’t have enough equity, we would make a loan and take a subordinate collateral position behind the bank to help launch or expand a business. The impact was more jobs, stronger businesses and strong relationships with the business community. We also supported training for workers already in the workforce. 

Why did you decide to come to work with The Ford Family Foundation?

I just couldn’t say no. I love starting new things — I like the energy that comes with building new networks and meeting new people. The philosophy of The Ford Family Foundation is so closely aligned with my passion for small towns. I’m a farm girl; rural communities have been my whole life. Each one has its own personality, with wonder-ful leaders who are passionate and committed. Working with new leaders is so energizing. 

What do you like best about Oregon so far?

The weather was a huge draw, as well as the beauty of the area and the entire state. We came through the Columbia Gorge on our drive here, and this state is gorgeous. The people here … when I came out for the initial interview, there was a warmth and welcoming atmosphere, and not only at the Foundation. Everywhere we went we were welcomed with open arms. 

What is in store for the new program in the near future?

Well, the Foundation was putting things on my calendar two months before I got here in January, and it’s been a whirlwind. I’ll be on the road to meet people around the state. I plan to spend six to 12 months getting to know the networks and the services — the landscape in the state in terms of business development. I’ll be talking to other staff members, and with graduates of Foundation programs to identify things we can do to add value. We don’t want to duplicate efforts. 

What is one thing you want people to know about community economic development?

It’s a long-term commitment. You may not get results in six months or even in two years. You need a long-term focus and effort that will have to be sustained over time. 

What do you like best about working in the economic development area?

I really love working with local business owners because they are tied into so many things at the heart of the community. There’s a commitment there when they see their employees at the grocery store and at school events — it makes a difference in how they approach layoffs and staff reductions.   

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