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Harvest Speaker Series - Jean Hardy

On Friday, March 19, 2021 Dr. Jean Hardy continued the HARVEST speaker series with a discussion about crafting rural entrepreneurs through cultural assets. His presentation was entitled “Crafting the Rural Entrepreneur: Transforming Rural Place through Cultural Assets”. Below is a short bio on Dr. Jean Hardy and an abstract of his talk as well as a recording of the presentation.

Dr. Jean Hardy

Dr. Jean Hardy is an Assistant Professor at Michigan State University's Department of Media & Information and a faculty affiliate at the Quello Center for Media & Information Policy. His primary research focus is on the role of high-tech entrepreneurship and technological innovation in rural economic and community development. He also does community-based participatory design research with rural LGBTQ people to understand technology use in low-resource settings. Hardy's formative work in rural computing has been published in venues such as Information, Communication, & Society and the Proceedings of the ACM on Human-Computer Interaction. He regularly collaborates with civic leaders and economic developers throughout rural Michigan on topics related to the future of rural development, and has been featured on Wisconsin Public Radio, Buzzfeed News, and Bloomberg. He holds a Doctorate and Master of Science in Information from the University of Michigan School of Information, and a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature and Theory from the University of Washington.

“Crafting the Rural Entrepreneur: Transforming Rural Place through Cultural Assets”

High-tech innovation and entrepreneurship have long been key components of America’s business landscape. Concentrated in major urban areas, the high-tech economy has dominated contemporary narratives of progress, urban renewal (and gentrification), and America’s future economic potential. Yet this progress and potential is not always seen as equally distributed across the American landscape. In particular, many rural regions with economies shifting away from agriculture, natural resource extraction, and/or heavy industry, are looking to take advantage of increased competition for investment capital, increased costs of living, and rising labor costs in traditional urban tech hubs. Rural communities have begun to create their own high-tech incubators and accelerators, worked to promote technology transfer in regional universities, and sought to market unique rural assets to any tech company willing to listen in an effort to get a piece of that “Big Tech” pie. But how are these rural regions preparing their entrepreneurs for the high-tech economy? Further, who is best positioned to realize the unique rural assets of a place so they may have an impact in growing the rural high-tech economy?

Drawing from 18 months of ethnographic research in the economic development circles and start-up communities of a very remote and rural region of the Midwestern United States, this talk proposes a process that I call crafting the rural entrepreneur. In drawing from contemporary pushes for asset-based community and economic development, I show how economic developers and local municipal leaders draw on unique rural cultural assets, transforming them into marketing materials and calls to action in an effort to build up a supposedly endogenous rural innovation economy. Rather, I show how rural cultural assets get leveraged to capture the right kind of (often urban) outsiders to successfully advance rural high-tech economies. I argue that the process of crafting the rural entrepreneur has implications for not only how we think of rural technological innovation, but for the future of urban-rural economic relations.

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