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Connecting community assets to market demand to build lasting livelihoods.

Construct a WealthWorks
Value Chain

WealthWorks value chains are well-suited to economic and community development that reaches beyond the norms of “creating jobs” and “increasing income” to achieve broader and deeper wealth-building goals that strengthen and sustain a region’s economy for the longer haul.

WealthWorks value chains offer a practical way to build your stocks of local capital, increase local ownership and control of that capital, and improve livelihoods and upward mobility for people, places and firms within a region. They show how a network of different types of partner investments, coordinated around a true market opportunity, can produce wealth that “sticks” to the region. They move the system of doing economic and community development toward a “new normal”—one where the realization of shared and common interests among value chain partners catalyzes opportunity and creates the will to address challenges together and better utilize all the resources flowing through the value chain to build wealth in the region.

Wealthworks Value Chain Defining Characteristics

Economic and community development goals tend to drive development practice. When goals are focused primarily on creating jobs and generating income, development activities are designed to produce those results, no matter who gets income, or what kind of jobs they are. In WealthWorks, development goals are expanded to include all three elements of wealth building within a region: that is, boosting stocks of eight types of capital (while harming none), increasing the local ownership and control of that capital within the region, and improving livelihoods, including moving people, places and firms on the economic margins towards the mainstream. Working on that range of goals calls for a tool that is flexible in both its design and application—one that can broaden and deepen wealth-building impacts within a region. That tool is the WealthWorks value chain.

A WealthWorks value chain is a network of people, businesses, organizations and agencies addressing a market opportunity to meet demand for specific products or services—advancing self-interest while building rooted local and regional wealth.

Value Chain Coordinator

With multiple players and moving parts, it’s no surprise that WealthWorks value chains need to be guided by a thoughtful and committed coordinator. At the point a critical mass of businesses, organizations, agencies and investors want to act on a market opportunity and build a value chain, they typically agree they must have a coordinator who will serve as the backbone that holds and weaves their efforts together. Anyone might be a coordinator—an organization, a business, an agency or a team. But like any value chain partner, the coordinator, too, must have a vested interest in developing and maintaining the value chain.

The coordinator serves as the backbone of a WealthWorks value chain, weaving together the efforts of everyone involved.

Demand, Transactional and Support Partners

WealthWorks considers any person, business, agency or organization that is involved in a value chain a “partner.” Some value chain partners are very involved with the coordinator in thinking about, designing and building the value chain. Some are aware of the chain and supportive, but dip into the work of constructing the value chain only in relation to their specific contribution or connection to its effort. A few partners may be largely unaware they are even in the value chain, but because other partners and the coordinator are aware of those partners’ value, they maintain relationships with them.

Types of value chain partners. There are three primary types of partners in a value chain, and they each play different roles.

  • Demand partners are the buyers who have significant interest or commitment to buy your products or services. They are in your value chain by necessity and default—without them, you are producing on blind faith that someone will buy what you make or do.
  • Transactional partners are the businesses, organizations and people that play a direct role in sourcing, producing and distributing the actual product or service you are delivering to the demand partners.
  • Support partners are the people, businesses and organizations that directly assist transactional partners with fulfilling their roles. Their services can include financing, policy and regulation, certification, research and development, as well as technical assistance.

There are three primary types of partners in a value chain—demand, transactional and support—and they each play different roles.

Wealth-Building Opportunities: Gaps,
Bottlenecks and Underutilized Resources

A WealthWorks value chain is dynamic, not static. A large part of its value as a tool for designing and implementing economic and community development efforts lies in that fact. The WealthWorks value chain, when well coordinated, becomes a communication and planning vehicle that surfaces and highlights information that can lead to more wealth-building opportunities.

How does that happen? The coordinator and core partners in a WealthWorks value chain regularly, either through formal meetings or a series of smaller exchanges, discover things happening (or not happening) in the value chain that present a barrier to be tackled or offer an idea for an entrepreneurial venture.

Wealth-building opportunities become evident as you map the value chain and identify its gaps, bottlenecks and underutilized resources.

Investment to Support the Value Chain

Like any economic and community development approach, building a WealthWorks value chain is an undertaking. Identifying the coordinator, spotting the right market opportunities, assembling and connecting partners, finding leverage points and addressing gaps, bottlenecks and underutilized resources is real work. So, like any market-driven approach, it requires investment—not just financial, but investments of creative thinking, willingness to innovate, commitments to doing things differently to create different results—and time.

Think of a WealthWorks value chain as a venture undertaken by a group of investors. Each invests in the value chain to, over time, generate a good return. But WealthWorks investors don’t necessarily invest dollars, and not all value chain investors are looking for financial returns.

In WealthWorks, investment includes any use or dedication of a capital for wealth-building results. Applying an underutilized resource to fill a gap in the value chain is a wealth-building investment.

Specialties: Local Food, Placemaking, Renewable Energy

States served: Minnesota

Additional details: Enhancing the vitality and quality of life in Cass, Crow Wing, Morrison, Todd and Wadena counties is the mission of Region Five Development Commission. Resiliency, inclusion and collaboration are guiding concepts in achieving mutually shared goals that continue to evolve with local municipalities, state, federal, philanthropic, non-profit and social advocacy agencies.

Contact: Cheryal Lee Hills, 218-894-3233

Mailing address:
200 1st Street NE, Suite 2
Staples, MN 56479

Alternative contact: Dawn Espe, 218-894-3233


Specialties: Food, Forestry/wood products, Tourism

States served: Idaho, Oregon, Washington

Additional details: RDI was formed in 1991 in response to the timber industry crisis facing the Pacific Northwest. Our nationally recognized programs and services help communities help themselves with effective and results-oriented training and resources necessary for individuals living in rural communities to build and sustain a better future in their communities. Our work is based upon our genuine commitment to build rural capacity through Leadership Development programs and strengthen Rural Economic Vitality through moving capacity into action.

Contact: Amy Hause, (541) 255-9590

Mailing address:
Rural Development Initiatives
91017 S Willamette St
Coburg, Oregon 97408

Alternative contact: Heidi Khokhar, (541) 684-9077 ext. 7011


Specialties: Food, Forestry/wood products, Housing, Tourism

States served: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, Wyoming

Region details: RCAC serves 13 western states including: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming. We also work in the U.S. territories of the Marianas Islands, Marshall Islands and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Additional details: RCAC Value Chains, economic development and Wealth Works are embedded in RCAC’s Building Rural Economies program. With over 10 years of experience in these arenas we technically assist communities who wish to envision and create their future.

Carol Cohen, 435-671-7068

Mailing address:
3120 Freeboard Drive
Suite 201
West Sacramento, CA 95691

Alternative contact: Ellen Drew, (575) 421-0261


Specialties: Energy efficiency

States served: Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming

Additional details: Midwest Assistance Program (MAP) has been helping communities and tribal nations find solutions to their infrastructure and development needs through information, resource management, expertise, and technical assistance since 1979.

Contact: Chris Fierrros, 660-562-2575

Mailing address:
303 N Market Street, Suite 2
Maryville, MO 64468


Specialties: Bio-energy, Food

States served: Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas

Region details: Communities Unlimited serves seven southern states: Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee. Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana and Alabama. This is an area that includes 60% of this country’s persistently poor counties, including large percentages of African Americans, Hispanics, and Native Americans.

Additional details: Communities Unlimited has 40 years of community economic development experience in the South. It seeks to move rural and under-resourced places toward prosperity by identifying a community’s assets and the market demand for the products or services created from those. We then build value chain collaboratives based on WealthWorks principles to create new economic opportunities. Since 2013, we are demonstrating the success of this approach through a farm-to-fuel value chain in the Arkansas Delta.

Primary Contact:
Martha Claire Bullen, 479-443-2700

Alternative Contact:
Ines Polonius

Mailing address:
3 East Colt Square Drive
Fayetteville, AR 72703

Alternative contact: Debbie Luther, 870-509-1331


Specialties: Arts, Food, Forestry/wood products, Tourism

States served: Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont

Additional details: Community Roots, LLC is a Vermont firm specializing in rural community and economic development consulting. Melissa Levy of Community Roots, LLC has been working with the WealthWorks framework over the past several years. She’s been a trainer, coach, workshop facilitator, and presenter in the WealthWorks community.

Contact: Melissa Levy, 802-318-1720

Location: Hinesburg, VT


Specialties: Arts, Energy efficiency, Food, Forestry/wood products, Manufacturing, Tourism

States served: Kentucky, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia

Additional details: The Central Appalachian Network is a regional network of six anchor organizations that pursue collective sustainable economic development strategies across the Appalachian region of Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky, Virginia, and Tennessee. CAN builds regional partnerships and also works deeply at the sub-regional level around sectors and opportunities including local food value chains, forestry, new energy, small business development, social enterprise, recycling/upcycling, implementation-focused research, advocacy, and organizational capacity-building. CAN’s members are Appalachian Center for Economic Networks (ACEnet), Appalachian Sustainable Development (ASD), Coalfield Development Corporation, Community Farm Alliance (CFA), Mountain Association for Community Economic Development (MACED), Natural Capital Investment Fund (NCIF), and Rural Action.

Contact: Leslie Schaller, 740-592-3854

Mailing address:
1456 C Patton Avenue
Asheville, NC 28806