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Connecting community assets to market demand to build lasting livelihoods.

Explore Regional
Wealth Building

Wealth is a word that can mean different things to different people.
For many, wealth simply means money—and it’s something that only a select few have in abundance. But wealth can mean much more than money.

For example, if you live in the Rocky Mountains or along the upper shores of Lake Michigan, you and your neighbors share a wealth of natural beauty and amenities—this wealth may be the reason you choose to live where you do. Men and women with long experience working in local industries have a wealth of skills and creativity. People who have attended college or specialized training have a wealth of knowledge. Towns that have a range of community-wide activities and active civic groups have a wealth of connections. Young children with access to affordable, preventive pediatric care might count good health as a type of wealth.

Wealth means different things in different contexts.
And what it takes to build wealth includes other critical factors. That’s why, in WealthWorks, the goal of economic and community development is not just wealth, it is wealth building for lasting livelihoods. So, to start, here is a common understanding of the term wealth building and what it means for WealthWorks.

Wealth building in a region means taking action to increase all three of these:

  1. The quality and quantity of wealth—­embodied in eight different types of capital.
  2. The local ownership and control of that wealth by a region’s people, places or firms.
  3. The livelihoods of people, places and firms in the region, including moving those on the economic margins toward the mainstream.

WealthWorks’ definition of wealth building starts with the core belief that every place has wealth. Even if it is not currently in use, that wealth can be identified, deployed and increased to improve the lives of residents. Here are just a few examples:

Parts of the Pacific Northwest have a wealth of timber, maintained by private and public landowners, providing employment in many small communities.

Tribal communities have a wealth of tradition, practices and artistry, shared and maintained by tribal members to provide a sense of belonging, a home, a history—and in some cases, non-profit or for-profit tourism or craft enterprises.

The Black Belt regions of Alabama and Mississippi have a wealth of agricultural knowledge maintained by African American residents that helps keep family, friends, communities and some commercial customers fed.

Notice again, in these examples, wealth is not just about money, but instead represents different types of capital—like natural resources, culture and know-how. When owned or influenced, either individually or collectively, by residents of a region, this capital can be deployed by residents to shape, sustain and improve livelihoods.

WealthWorks helps communities do this by identifying, deploying and investing in existing regional wealth, strengthening local or regional ownership and control of it, and ensuring that many in the region—always including low-income people, places and firms—participate in and reap benefits from economic and community development action. In short, WealthWorks seeks to build regional wealth.
Why WealthWorks? Its focus on regional wealth building creates new possibilities for economic and community development. It helps widen the development focus beyond the core of profit, income and job creation today—the typically stated targets for development—to include the essential factors that will sustain profit, jobs and income into the future. WealthWorks’ wealth-building strategy produces wealth that sticks because it shows how to invest in and increase influence over local assets to produce benefits for the region both today and tomorrow.

To introduce and explore WealthWorks’ potential, this module defines the core concepts and goals of wealth building: wealth, ownership and livelihoods. Then, we explore how you can begin to think about wealth-building in your region.

Wealth: The eight capitals

To build a region’s wealth, WealthWorks considers not just financial assets, but includes the stock of all capitals in a region. This approach takes into account all the features of a city, town, countryside or region that make it a good place to live, work and visit. These might include: a strong sense of community; good infrastructure (e.g., affordable broadband, good roads, health care); well-trained workers with the right skills to be productive in local businesses; unspoiled natural beauty (e.g., lakes, streams, hiking trails, parks) or natural assets like wetlands that control flood waters; inclusive, open government; a few strong sectors with well-paying jobs and career possibilities.

Each of these represents a component of a type of capital. Some components of capital—like the ones listed above—are more immediately recognizable than others. Some are less visible because they are in disrepair, not used, or taken for granted. Such “underutilized resources,” if identified and invested in, could contribute more to the region’s wealth. For example, a vacant lot considered an eyesore today could, with imagination and investment, become a productive community garden or recreational space tomorrow. Underskilled but willing workers could, with investment in training programs for skills that local firms need, become the region’s strongest asset.

The eight capitals: intellectual, financial, natural, cultural, built, political, individual and social.

Regional ownership and control

A growing number of economic and community development practitioners are concerned with how to “make wealth stick.”

Classic examples of wealth not “sticking” surface all the time in the hallway conversations about development. In one common case, rural communities lament when they create and offer their high school graduates college scholarships to far-away universities; this builds the youth’s individual capital, but if the young people never return, that capital leaves the region. In another, regions complain when generous public incentives are awarded to large firms to locate there, but the firm is not locally owned, participates little in community life, only offers its lowest-wage jobs to locals, or moves away when a better location deal lures them to a different region.

In short, wealth-building is not just about increasing wealth—that is, the quantity and quality of your stocks of eight capitals. It must include making sure those stocks of capital stay in place and that people, firms, organizations and communities in the region can make decisions about how they are used and invested in the future. In WealthWorks, we call this essential ingredient of wealth building regional ownership and control.

Regional ownership and control can take many forms. However, it is the local or regional aspect of ownership and control that marks it as a true wealth-building strategy.

Lasting livelihoods

The allure of wealth building is its capac­ity to improve lives. For that reason, the last essential component of wealth building is lasting livelihoods.

You might well work hard to increase stocks of capital, along with local ownership and control, in your region. But if low-income people, places and firms in the region are not doing better or are not well poised to do better, you have not met the WealthWorks test for wealth building.

Why is this so important? It’s because improving livelihoods for low-income people, places and firms is simply good economic strategy. If they stay low-income or fall further down the economic ladder, they have less to spend in your region, fewer family resources—like ready transportation, good health, time or network connections—that enable them to participate in and contribute to the community, and they may create strains on scarce public resources. If they do better, they spend more in the region, their children do better, and they contribute more time, resources and ability to community activities. As low-income people move toward and enter the economic mainstream, everyone does better.

Lasting Livelihoods: How can this economic development strategy be altered so that those on the margins can participate in its design, and so that they will benefit from it?

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