Surviving On Their Own: How Leaders In Appalachia’s Remote Rural Communities Make Economic Development Policy

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There is growing support for metropolitan-focused economic development policy in the United States. Defenders of this metropolitan agenda push aside concerns regarding whether rural communities are left out of this framework by pointing out that over half of rural residents live within metropolitan areas. Additional rural areas that are outside of metropolitan boundaries are still interconnected with metropolitan areas through the exchange of goods and people. Hence, the argument goes, when metropolitan economies grow, benefits spill into rural communities.

But arguments that rural and metropolitan areas are not so different leave the most remote rural areas out of economic development discussions. Historical disadvantages created persistent poverty in remote areas: a lack of access to urban markets, poor infrastructure and underinvestment, and policies that have pulled human capital out of the rural communities and into distant urban centers. Unfortunately, there is no clear strategy for how to help these communities thrive and there is a void in academic literature that assesses development from the perspective of remoteness.

This thesis offers analysis of economic opportunities for the most remote rural communities in the United States. Given that there has been so little focus on economic development opportunities in remote rural areas, what economic development programs are being implemented at the community level today in remote rural counties? To what extent do local leaders play a proactive role in creating the economic development strategy compared to implemented state and federal mandates? What information and resources do these local leaders depend on to shape economic development policy?

A survey was used to gather information from local leaders regarding development strategies in remote counties in Appalachia. Analysis finds a great deal of variance across the selected remote rural counties and justification for local-specific development policies. The insight from local leaders offers a starting point for pushing toward economic policy that takes into account the unique hurdles and opportunities of remoteness and begins by focusing on post-secondary education and leadership development.


Undergraduate Honors Thesis, Sanford School of Public Policy




Feldman, Stefanie (2009). Surviving On Their Own: How Leaders In Appalachia’s Remote Rural Communities Make Economic Development Policy. Honors thesis, Duke University. Retrieved from

Dukes student scholarship is made available to the public using a Creative Commons Attribution / Non-commercial / No derivative (CC-BY-NC-ND) license.