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Rural Economic Disaster
Recovery Resource Center



Steps to recovery for stricken communities

Guide to recovery resources

Case studies in rural economic disaster & recovery

Disaster readiness for every community

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Early Moss Point Katrina recovery organizing meeting, October 2005. Photo by Mark M. Miller


Inspiration for the R.E.D.R. Resource Center: Resilient Rural Communities

This resource center had its initial and dramatic inspiration in two small Mississippi communities struck by Hurricane Katrina, August 29, 2005.  Neither Moss Point nor Wiggins, Mississippi, took a direct hit from the storm, yet both communities were transformed—both for better and for worse—in the impacts of a single day.

USDA Rural Development took prompt action toward Katrina recovery.  State and federal representatives approached the University of Southern Mississippi’s Department of Economic & Workforce Development for technical assistance.  Together, we identified Moss Point and Wiggins as model communities for disaster recovery planning. 

Moss Point was identified as the lowest-income community within the three coastal counties of Mississippi, with a 70 percent African-American population.  Moss Point also had been struck by another form of economic disaster just four years earlier, when three major industrial employers closed within a single year.  Katrina completed the blow when it flooded large areas of the city, including city hall and other municipal offices, and several low-lying, low-income neighborhoods.  Some homes were completely submerged, and survivors swam for blocks to safety.  City records and police vehicles were lost.  Many local residents were displaced, and much of the city’s fragile, remaining economic base was put out of commission, including local hotels and even the only remaining supermarket in the community.

Wiggins is the small county seat of rural, inland Stone County, some thirty miles from the Mississippi coast.  The community received some physical damage from Katrina’s winds.  However, Wiggins’ greater concern came after the storm, as the community began to recognize the potential impacts of population and industry relocation in the region.  Many thousands had lost their homes and their business locations across coastal Mississippi and greater New Orleans.  Wiggins appeared to be ideally situated, on high ground but close to the disaster region.  Local campgrounds quickly filled with refugees, and available real estate was snapped up.  Without quick action, Wiggins faced a future of FEMA trailer parks and unplanned sprawling development.

As soon as the power returned to our library and computers at the University of Southern Mississippi, we began searching the available research on disaster recovery for guidance.  We found a great deal written about recovery of housing and health care systems.  However, we were surprised to find very little written about guiding a community’s economic recovery after a disaster. 
At the same time, our extensive experience in economic development prepared us to confront steady and gradual economic decline in rural communities, through a multitude of assistance programs and extensive research.  We found ourselves much less prepared to assist in situations when sudden economic disasters strike rural communities.  As a result, our subsequent work with the Moss Point and Wiggins communities proved to be a learning experience for everyone concerned. 

As our work continued, we came to realize that economic disaster—and response—can take many forms for rural communities.  Greenburg, Kansas, for example, was very nearly destroyed by a tornado on May 4, 2007.  Within months, however the community and its supporters were planning its rebirth as an environmentally “green” town.

The sudden and unexpected loss of a rural community’s major industry—such as a major factory, mine, or other livelihood—can have an economic impact nearly as devastating as a natural disaster.  As just one example, the city of Abbeville, Alabama, was stunned by the closure of a major textile plant that was announced and completed in the course of just a few months in 2007. 

- Mark M. Miller and Judson C. Edwards 2008



The Rural Disaster Recovery Resource Center is a joint project of the following partners:

USDA RD logo
USDA Rural Development
Lott Center logo

The University of Southern Mississippi
Mark M. Miller
, Professor
Economic Development and Geography
601 266 6067
Hattiesburg, MS 39406-5051

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Troy University

Center for International Business and Economic Development
Judson C. Edwards, Director of Cibed and Associate Professor
102 Bibb Graves Hall / Troy, AL 36082


The purpose of this handbook is to provide guidance for future disaster-struck communities and the wide variety of organizations that will come to their assistance. This includes, especially, the national, state, and regional field offices of USDA/Rural Development, and the extensive range of communities that they serve. Our research for this handbook focuses on three major questions:

• When disaster does strike a rural community, how can that community—working in coordination with outside assistance organizations—most effectively re-establish the livelihoods of its citizens?

• Over the longer term, how can the community—again, working in effective cooperation with outside agencies—rebuild a strong economic base and perhaps even capitalize on opportunities to be found in a disaster situation?

• How can communities and support organizations prepare for an events as unexpected and unpredictable as an economic disasters?


Research methods

This handbook consolidates our learning experiences in Moss Point and Wiggins, in Mississippi, as well as lessons learned from case studies of other disaster-struck communities such as Greenburg, Kansas, and Abbeville, Alabama.

In Moss Point and Wiggins, over a period of nearly two years since Katrina, we have worked side-by-side with a wide range of local citizen’s organizations; local planners, economic development professionals, elected officials, and other public officials; government agencies at the state and federal level; and non-governmental organizations extending their assistance to these communities.

Our interview research also will include public officials and other community leaders of Greenburg, Abbeville, Enterprise (Alabama), and other communities recovering from disaster, along with representatives of outside organizations. In particular, we plan to interview USDA/Rural Development officials at the federal, state, and regional levels who are working to address the needs of these communities.

We also plan to compile an extensive review of the available research publications concerned with recovery from economic disaster, websites, databases, and other relevant materials.


Defining “rural” vs. “urban” communities is an age-old questions. In this handbook, we follow the general guidance of the USDA Economic Research Service, as follows: According to official U.S. Census Bureau definitions, rural areas comprise open country and settlements with fewer than 2,500 residents.

Urban areas comprise larger places and densely settled areas around them…. According to this system, rural areas consist of all territory located outside of urbanized areas and urban clusters. The U.S. rural population was 59 million (21 percent) in 2000. ERS researchers and others who discuss conditions in "rural" America most often refer to conditions in nonmetropolitan areas. Metropolitan (metro) and nonmetropolitan (nonmetro) areas are defined on the basis of counties. Counties are typically active political jurisdictions, usually have programmatic importance at the Federal and State level, and estimates of population, employment, and income are available for them annually. They are also frequently used as basic building blocks for areas of economic and social integration. (USDA Economic Research Service. 2007. Measuring Rurality: What is Rural? Retrieved 7/26/07: WhatIsRural/)

Our research, however, includes communities with a broader definition of “rural.” Moss Point, for example, is technically a metropolitan community, within the Pascagoula Metropolitan Statistical Area.

For the purpose of this research, we have chosen to focus on communities that have relatively “rural” economies. That is, these communities have economies that are typically small, slow-growing or stagnant, and not very diverse. A very large share of the local economy may be based on one (or just a few) major employer(s). Such economies will also typically be based largely on the production and processing of natural resources, such as timber, minerals, or agricultural products. Alternatively, their economies may be based on manufacturing that is not highly technical or skilled in nature. As a result, the economies of these communities are particularly vulnerable to national and global trends in the best of circumstances. In the case of a disaster situation, the economic consequences may be disastrous


clio downtown clio mural

Dedicated to the many rural communities across the U.S. (like downtown Clio, Alabama, above) struggling to survive, adapt, and progress while not losing what they love about their hometowns.