Most who live in the Monadnock Region do so by choice, opting to trade what larger urban and metropolitan areas may offer for the beauty, community connection, recreational opportunities and other charms that characterize this rural corner of New England. Preserving, enhancing and capitalizing on our ruralness thus is critical to ensuring the long-term wellness and sustainability of the region. But, rather than looking at that goal parochially, it’s important to recognize that there are so many communities throughout not only New England, but also the entire country, that cherish their own particular rural characteristics and advantages and are equally invested in assuring they thrive into the future.

And what better way for rural areas, including this one, to benefit from that shared commitment to vibrancy than to get together and connect to learn what’s working elsewhere, to share experiences and ideas for mutual opportunities and to have conversation about the rural future?

Though perhaps that’s not surprising, it’s the radical goal of Radically Rural, the two-day annual summit that kicks off next Thursday, Sept. 19, throughout downtown Keene. The summit is a collaborative effort of the Hannah Grimes Center for Entrepreneurship and The Sentinel, with major funding locally from The Kingsbury Foundation and C&S Wholesale Grocers and from such national sources as the Ewing Marion Kaufman Foundation and the Knight Foundation.

Next week’s gathering aims to build on last year’s initial summit, which brought over 500 registrants to downtown Keene from over 20 states. Rather than gather in a single, dedicated setting, the event will turn the greater Main Street area into a conference center, with venues stretching from the Historical Society of Cheshire County, up and along Main Street and to the new MoCo Arts and Keene Public Library facilities, with gatherings spilling over into local eateries and other spots.

As beneficial to the downtown economy as the summit hopes to be, however, the most important opportunity it presents for those in the region is to participate, learn from others around the country and connect, by pursuing one or more, and some or all, of the summit’s six daytime tracks, or by attending the annual CONNECT networking event on Thursday evening.

The daytime program tracks focus on arts and culture, working lands, renewable energy, main street, community journalism and entrepreneurship. The latter of these includes the PitchFork Challenge, where entrepreneurs will present final pitches as they vie for funding awards for local business opportunities. At CONNECT, not only will the PitchFork Challenge winners be announced, but also, as the evening event’s theme, What’s Next!, suggests, CONNECT will highlight ideas for what may be the next big thing in the various tracks.

Local residents will also have a particular interest at the CONNECT event to view and provide input on recently announced plans being developed by Monadnock Economic Development Corp. for an arts corridor in downtown Keene. More information about the summit’s programs, events and schedule, as well as how to purchase tickets, can be found on the radicallyrural.org website.

The concern about rural America’s sustainability in a rapidly changing economy is a very real one. Just recently, The Daily Yonder, a news site published by the nonpartisan Center for Rural Strategies, reported that from July 2018 to July 2019 rural counties across the country added jobs at only half the rate of metropolitan counties.

Bringing together those who care deeply about rural living will not by itself solve all the problems unique to rural communities. But engaging and networking with those from other rural areas can help individual communities, including ours, identify solutions and indeed chart the path to what’s next, and that’s the goal of next week’s Radically Rural summit.