A community college in Massachusetts is establishing a rural innovation accelerator to help drive economic improvements in the surrounding communities

Fostering innovation through a community college partnership

A community college in Massachusetts is establishing a rural innovation accelerator to help drive economic improvements in the surrounding communities

The Greater Franklin County Rural Innovation Accelerator is a robust and sustainable action network positioned to fulfill the partnership’s ultimate vision: a vibrant community that supports a high quality of life with physical, emotional, and economic health for all citizens in a sustainable environment. The project will comprise a set of comprehensive services aimed at helping people and communities weather COVID-19 while preparing them for long-term success when the pandemic subsides. While the partnership will work directly with the municipalities of Greenfield, Orange, and Athol, the outcomes of this work are expected to have ripple effects throughout the region.

Before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Franklin County, where more than 10 percent of the population lives in poverty, was already facing chronic and persistent barriers that impacted the economic well-being of individuals, families, business, and communities. Continued loss of manufacturing jobs that once formed the bedrock of local economies–and a crushing opioid crisis that has impacted the lives of countless residents–resulted in a 10 percent unemployment rate. These challenges and more have been amplified in the face of COVID-19.

According to the state’s Pioneer Valley Labor Market Blueprint, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the unemployed labor pool has increased exponentially in the region with a total number of unemployed people at 50,723 at the end of April 2020–a number that has since grown and affected our most vulnerable populations the most. The unemployment crisis has had the biggest toll on younger workers, especially those with an educational attainment less than a high school degree.

Under the auspices of GCC’s Rural Innovation Center—located at the college’s downtown Greenfield campus—the Greater Franklin County Rural Innovation Accelerator will design and deliver a comprehensive set of programs, products, and services that benefit all our citizens. From thriving local businesses looking to scale, to retired teachers looking to profit from their passions, to young adults who have dropped out of high school, we aim to create a Franklin County where all citizens thrive economically.

Led by Project Manager Max Fripp, the project will lead a process with entrepreneurship consultants Innovation Accelerator to engage with GCC and partner LaunchSpace in a design process that culminates in the creation of business plans and pitch decks for GCC’s downtown center campus window-front incubator retail space and Rural Innovation Center.

Additional community-based partner projects will include:

  • Center on Rural Innovation (CORI) out of Hartland, VT, which will provide an assessment of current state and potential for the digital economy ecosystem (DEE) as the Phase One of expanding access to jobs in the digital economy in the region with a focus on Greenfield, Orange, and Athol.
  • The Franklin County Community Development Corporation (FCCDC), which will lead a research and community interview process that brings benefits and impacts to local food suppliers, food businesses, GCC and LSI through: 1) Advising LSI on local food systems with a focus on value added products and scalable food businesses; 2) developing a build-out plan for the Pleasant Street School kitchen and how to leverage as a community asset and viable business model; and 3) informing how GCC should market, place, and sell local food products in a way that brings value to the food supplier, the community, and GCC’s bottom line.

LaunchSpace–a nonprofit, member-based community workshop in the Orange Innovation Center that provides tools, equipment, education, and support to people who want to make and repair things but don’t have space, money, or time to build a shop of their own–will provide direct services, products, and professional development to residents of Orange, Athol, and the greater North Quabbin Region.

The project will allow LaunchSpace to offer five community members a free annual membership to LaunchSpace, providing access to the makerspace and ongoing training and professional development aimed at building a sustainable business. Funds will also support LaunchSpace staff salaries in continuing the day-to-day operations of the space while continuing to develop new programs and services while broadening their regional impact. This financial support is critical given the economic impact COVID-19 has had on LSI revenue through events and membership fees.

eSchool Media Contributors