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Connecting community assets to market demand to build lasting livelihoods.
Community Guide: A Place to Get Started, Now

Publisher: NACo
Authors: Deborah Markley, Center for Rural Entrepreneurship; Barbara Wyckoff, Dynamica Consulting; and Michelle Decker, Rural Action

Community Guide

About This Guide

In 2015, the National Association of Counties (NACo), with support from the WealthWorks community, conducted five County Prosperity Summits across the U.S., working in partnership with county government agencies. The response from the summits was positive and a follow-up workshop was conducted at the NACo national conference in the summer of 2015.

During each one-day summit, WealthWorks practitioners came together with local leaders in rural and mid-size counties to provide an introduction to the WealthWorks framework, build strategies to strengthen relationships among local and regional players in community and economic development, identify ways to deepen and sustain local asset-based economic development and investigate ways to infuse equitable development principles into local economic strategies. You can learn more about each of the five County Prosperity Summits—with sector information, maps, images and other media from each event—by going to the NACo County Prosperity Summity website.

This guide was written to help you—county and municipal leaders and others engaged in economic development—understand the principles behind the WealthWorks framework and better access the tools and resources on the WealthWorks website so that you can bring this new way of doing economic development to your communities and regions. Using this guide, you can convene your own prosperity summit.

What is WealthWorks?

In the U.S., economic development is primarily a local responsibility. Local leaders—and all residents—assume responsibility for a community’s current and future prosperity. We know that takes hard work and a long-term commitment. And, we know that many leaders in communities large and small are looking for new ways of doing economic development that generate stronger, more equitable outcomes—more broadly shared and sustainable prosperity. WealthWorks is an approach to economic development that connects a region’s assets to market demand in ways that build wealth rooted in local people, places and firms. It is an asset-based approach to community economic development with a goal of building wealth that “sticks” in the community or region. WealthWorks focuses on building an economic sector, such as housing, local food, or energy, rather than individual and unrelated businesses. And, since this kind of economic development takes many partners, the approach applies tools that bring together a range of public, private and non-profit organizations that have an interest in the outcomes of development and openness to discovering mutual or collective interests.


To hear practitioners describe the WealthWorks approach, watch the video WealthWorks for Economic Development.

WealthWorks is defined by a number of principles or design elements:

  1. Focus on creating wealth, broadly defined, and aspire to do no harm to one form of wealth while building others.
  2. Build lasting livelihoods by intentionally including economically-marginalized residents.
  3. Root wealth in local people, places and firms through local ownership and influence.
  4. Use a systems approach—WealthWorks Value Chains—to build value in existing and emerging sectors.

To better understand WealthWorks—and the potential value it might have when applied to economic development in your community or region—we suggest starting with a number of resources on


The Basics section provides an overview of the WealthWorks approach.


Explore sector-specific Success Stories in the resource section.


Watch sector-specific WealthWorks Videos in the resource section.

If these materials have gotten you excited about the opportunity to share the WealthWorks framework with others in your community or region, consider organizing a Prosperity Summit as one way to explore the approach with others in your community or region.

Organizing a Prosperity Summit

The goal of the Prosperity Summits, organized by NACo in 2015, was to introduce a wealth building approach to economic development to key stakeholders in each rural county. This one-day convening provided an opportunity to introduce key WealthWorks concepts and tools, both in theory and in practice. Each Summit was led by a facilitator—someone familiar with WealthWorks who presented the concepts and small group explorations—and a storyteller—a practitioner who was actively engaged in applying the WealthWorks framework in her own community or region. The storyteller’s role was to bring the application of these principles and tools alive—to share the journey of doing economic development differently.

The NACo Prosperity Summits generated energy and interest among the participating counties. This type of convening is a good first step for any community that is interested in exploring WealthWorks. So, how can you organize a Prosperity Summit in your community or region? Here are some tips and resources to help you get started.

  • Find a facilitator and storyteller. If you have successfully explored the materials in the What is WealthWorks section of this guide, you may feel ready to facilitate a Prosperity Summit. With the understanding you gain from this exploration—and the resources described in the next section—you have the tools you need. To identify a storyteller, we suggest visiting Connect on the WealthWorks website. Here you can search for WealthWorks Hubs, by geography and sector, to identify practitioners who are actively applying the WealthWorks framework. All of the Hub organizations are committed to sharing their practice with others and can be a resource for you. If you are looking for help with facilitation, the Hubs are a good place to start as well.

Once you’ve identified a storyteller, share the Guide for Storytellers.

  • Get prepared for a Summit. To help the county leadership teams get ready for their summits, we put together some guidelines for Organizing a Prosperity Summit. These guidelines will help you create a leadership team, identify an economic sector to focus on during the Summit, and get the right people to the Summit. We also share some logistical information to help with your planning.
  • Set the agenda. Here is a Prosperity Summit Agenda, tested during the NACo Summits, along with a Prosperity Summit Facilitator’s Agenda to guide the planning and preparation for your Summit.

These resources will help you set the stage for a Summit—finding the right leadership team, identifying the resource people for your Summit, and making sure you get the right people in the room, focused on the right economic sector. Now it’s time to focus in on the content—exploring WealthWorks in your community.

Exploring WealthWorks in Your Community

The agenda designed for a Prosperity Summit provides one way to explore the principles and tools of WealthWorks in your community or region. If you visit the NACO Prosperity Summit Website, you will find sample PowerPoint slide decks from the five NACo Summits as examples. The Summit also introduces a number of exercises and tools to help participants more deeply explore WealthWorks. These tools can be used during a Summit, as described in the agenda and PowerPoint, or they can be used as stand-alone resources to help you explore WealthWorks with others in your community.

Each of the topics below reflects a principle, characteristic or tool associated with the WealthWorks approach. We have identified a set of print and video resources for you to use in a variety of settings in your community or region. You might want to use the WealthWorks for Economic Development overview video in an introductory meeting with a set of community or regional stakeholders. If you hold a Prosperity Summit, one next step might be to bring together some key stakeholders in your economic sector to explore the Value Chains video or to work through the resources under Connecting with Demand.

Creating Wealth

The goal of WealthWorks is to create wealth, broadly defined to include eight forms of capital. Helping stakeholders in your community understand that wealth is more than money is an important first step in understanding the value of a wealth building approach to development. These tools and resources can help create a common language around “wealth” that will benefit your economic development efforts.


The Eight Capitals Handout—a set of simple definitions of the eight forms of capital.


Stock vs. Flow Handout—explanation of the difference between income (a flow) and investment (a stock).


Spider Diagram Exercise—included in the Prosperity Summit agenda, an exercise to help participants identify forms of wealth within a sector.


Multiple Forms of Capital Video—hear practitioners describe the forms of capital as they are reflected in their work on the ground.

Lasting Livelihoods

It is not enough to build wealth for a few; the goal of a wealth building approach to economic development is to create lasting livelihoods for everyone in a community or region. When we talk about lasting livelihoods, we are talking about low-income residents, in particular, doing better today, with improved skills to qualify for higher-paying jobs. We want to create opportunities for residents to earn more and build careers, enabling them to put something aside for the future, e.g., building assets, so they are more resilient. When everyone in a community has better future prospects, they have the capacity to give back with their time, talent, and even treasure to the community. The goal of lasting livelihoods is important to creating development that is sustainable over time.


The best way to understand the importance of lasting livelihoods is to hear from practitioners and residents. View the Improving Livelihoods Video.


To help you include low-income residents in your economic development activities, check out this PowerPoint presentation on Resident Engagement.

Local Ownership and Control

Think about what happens to a boat that is not anchored—it slowly drifts away. The same thing can happen to wealth that is not owned and controlled locally or regionally. Local ownership is the anchor that makes wealth “stick” in the place where it was built. And, without this local ownership, wealth is not rooted. The goal of WealthWorks is to make wealth “stick” through a variety of local ownership structures—from locally owned businesses to cooperatives to an endowment at the community foundation.


The Local Ownership and Control Video provides examples from the field.


Keeping Wealth Local explores different ownership models in a clear and accessible way.


Thinking Ownership and Control is a one-page handout that describes a continuum of ownership and control models.

Value Chains

One way to tie wealth to a place and connect assets across a region is to construct a wealth-building value chain. In the WealthWorks framework, a value chain connects local production to regional demand in a way that brings new resources into the community. The value chain is defined as a network of people, businesses, institutions, and non-profits that collaborate to meet market demand for specific products or services—each advancing their individual interest while together creating greater local community wealth. Value chains are built in a particular economic sector such as local foods, biofuels, energy efficiency, and housing—one reason why the Prosperity Summit is organized around an economic sector.


The Value Chains Video provides examples from the field.


Value Chain Mapping Exercise included in the Prosperity Summit agenda, an exercise to help participants map a value chain within a sector.


Potential Partners in an Organic Tomato Soup Value Chain is a useful one-page handout that illustrates the value chain concept.

Connecting with Demand

Remember the saying from the movie, Field of Dreams? “If you build it, they will come.” Constructing a wealth building value chain runs contrary to that statement. Every value chain should start with a deep and thorough understanding of demand. What do your demand partners seek in a product or service? How can you combine or connect your community’s assets to meet that demand? You want to achieve “fit”: Where the interests/needs of demand meet the value/benefits you are creating in your
product or services.

The answers to these and other questions will help you connect with demand and ultimately make your value chain function more effectively.


The Connecting with Demand Video provides real-world illustrations to help you understand the importance of starting with demand.


Demand Conversations Handout, included in the Prosperity Summit agenda, offers useful tips for striking up conversations with potential demand partners.

The Role of the Coordinator

Wealth building value chains are not self-organizing. It takes some type of coordinating entity to manage such a collaborative network of diverse partners. This entity is also responsible for keeping their eye on the wealth building goals—creating wealth broadly defined; making sure that everyone, including low income residents, participates and benefits; and keeping the wealth rooted in place by paying attention to who owns and controls the wealth.


The Coordinators Video provides real-world illustrations of a range of coordinating entities and the important role they play in WealthWorks.


Coordinator Roles Handout, included in the Prosperity Summit agenda, describes some of the roles that these coordinating entities can and do play.

Understanding Your Starting Point

Introducing new ideas, like the WealthWorks framework, can be difficult in many communities. It is useful to start where people are and relate these new ideas to the kind of work already being done to create a more prosperous community. We have developed a set of tools, tested as part of a workshop sponsored by the National Association of Development Organizations (, that apply some of the wealth building principles to a familiar development tool—the SWOT analysis.


The SWOT Handout offers useful instructions for completing a SWOT analysis with a twist—organizing your analysis by multiple forms of capital.

Other WealthWorks Resources

Whether you choose to organize a Prosperity Summit or simply introduce the principles and tools associated with WealthWorks to key stakeholders in other ways, the best source of resources is the WealthWorks community’s website— In addition to the resources suggested above, we also recommend the following.


The WealthWorks Hubs offer a way for you to connect with a practitioner in your region or sector.


If you are interested in training support, check out Training on the website or contact a Hub that serves your area.

Next Steps

If you have worked your way through this guide, and the resources on this website, you may be wondering what’s next. If you want to explore WealthWorks more deeply in your community—and are looking for guidance and support—there are people within the WealthWorks community who can help. To find coaching support from someone within this community, contact one of the WealthWorks Hubs or send a request to

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