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RuralX connects rural leaders at two-day conference

Rural leaders gathered on Dakota Wesleyan University's campus Wednesday and Thursday for RuralX, a conference aimed at sharing ideas on how to support and improve rural communities.

John Beranek speaks during the RuralX event on Thursday in the Sherman Center on the Dakota Wesleyan University campus. (Matt Gade / Republic)
John Beranek speaks during the RuralX event on Thursday in the Sherman Center on the Dakota Wesleyan University campus. (Matt Gade / Republic)
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Rural leaders gathered on Dakota Wesleyan University's campus Wednesday and Thursday for RuralX, a conference aimed at sharing ideas on how to support and improve rural communities.

This is RuralX's third year, but this year marked the first time the conference has been held in Mitchell. RuralX was put on by Dakota Resources, a nonprofit based in Renner that focuses on economic development in rural areas, and the decision to hold RuralX on DWU's campus this year was based on Dakota Resources' recent partnership with the school.

"We're really fascinated by the idea that Dakota Wesleyan thinks of itself not as a university that happens to be in a rural place, but a university that is for rural communities," Dakota Resources President Joe Bartmann said. "That makes this campus a great place to have conversations about the future of our communities."

About 150 people attended the conference, a number Bartmann said was strategically chosen to be small enough that everyone could have a chance to meet each other and large enough to ensure there was some diversity. Conveniently, the number of tickets available to be sold was roughly equal to the number of people who applied to attend.

RuralX was open to anyone interested in making a difference in a rural community, and attendees included members of economic development boards, members of organizations that help community leaders, people from companies that sponsored RuralX and others from companies that have an interest in rural communities.

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"This is a moment where the nation is looking at rural communities in a different way and paying attention to what's happening out here," Bartmann said. "I think it's an opportunity for us to change the stories that we tell ourselves and that we're telling the rest of the country about being small town, rural communities."

Wednesday's RuralX schedule was primarily made up of lectures from experts on rural issues, while most of Thursday was dedicated to small group discussions, some organized in advance and others on topics chosen by conference attendees.

The conference concluded Thursday afternoon with everyone regrouping and sharing what they had learned. Attendees said some of their biggest takeaways were to emphasize to community members that leaders are not the enemy and to look to others who have been in similar situations when trying to figure out how to address problems.

"My message that I keep repeating over and over the last two days is really about thinking about a new approach to leadership in rural communities, and I call that being community shapers," Bartmann said.

Attendees were also asked to participate in a challenge. They were given worksheets that prompted them to come up with some sort of action that they could complete in 90 days and were then told to list the resources they would need to get it done, the people they could ask for help and how they would know when their goal had been met.

To track their progress on the challenge and hold one another accountable, participants were instructed to post on social media using the hashtag #RuralXActionPlan.

"We'll all be able to see the ripples of impact that are happening in communities because of these two days together," Bartmann said.

Related Topics: DAKOTA WESLEYAN UNIVERSITY
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