Deborah Markley believes every community has the potential to create its own entrepreneurial ecosystem.
Markley, who has more than 35 years of experience working in community economic development, is senior vice president of LOCUS Impact Investing and helps manage the organization’s consulting services for place-focused philanthropic institutions.
Markley is also co-founder and managing director of the Center for Rural Entrepreneurship, a national nonprofit organization that helps communities leverage assets – specifically business, social and civic entrepreneurs – to promote economic development.
She holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in agricultural economics from Cornell University and a doctorate in agricultural economics from Virginia Tech. Her field-based research has been presented in academic journals as well as national public policy organizations and congressional committees.
Markley, as director of the Center of Rural Entrepreneurship, has focused economic development efforts in rural communities and how they can create strong environments to support entrepreneurship.
“As we did that work over time, we consistently saw the opportunity that community philanthropy provides to any place,” she said in an interview Monday, adding it’s often difficult for rural areas to secure economic development funding. “If you have a community foundation in your place that’s able to capture and hold (financial contributions) and be able to give back in the future, you have an asset to take control of your own destiny.”
Markley said she’s seeing an abundance of innovation occurring in the country right now, with many areas taking a different approach to economic development.
Rural communities, in particular, are focusing on regional assets such as tourism or producing locally grown foods to further economic development efforts.
“We are seeing more community foundations stepping up to provide resources to their community,” she said. “That really excites me because I think it’s a sustainable approach to economic development.”
Markley noted efforts that Athens, Ohio, took to create a “locavore movement,” which supports producing and eating local foods. Those values drove the city to become a leader in local food production through connecting farmers with restaurants and urban markets.
Markley said she’s excited about promoting economic development in rural communities because it’s not about government creating a policy or regulatory changes, it’s about people in the region coming together to change their communities.
“For me, seeing those folks in a community come together – from the school board, to the mayor, to a person who plows the streets – and really thinking about how to make their community a place where they want to raise their kids and start businesses, that’s what is making change happen.”
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