Create Bridges


CREATE BRIDGES stands for:

Celebrating REtail, Accommodations, Tourism, and Entertainment

by Building Rural Innovations and Developing Growth Economies



While manufacturing and professional services are often the focus of economic development efforts, businesses in the retail, accommodations, tourism and entertainment sectors are important to the viability of communities and regions.

These industries provide needed goods, services and amenities to residents and visitors and enhance quality of life. They are often a major source of jobs and tax revenue for communities.

The CREATE BRIDGES initiative was launched to develop and test a process to promote and strengthen retail, accommodations, tourism and entertainment sectors, particularly in rural, economically distressed areas.

The process is designed to:

  1. Raise awareness of the role these important businesses play in the region’s economy;
  2. Determine challenges and barriers negatively impacting those businesses; and
  3. Develop and implement strategies to strengthen the retail, accommodations, tourism, and entertainment sectors within a region.

The CREATE BRIDGES initiative is a partnership among the Southern Rural Development Center, University of Kentucky’s Community & Economic Development Initiative of Kentucky (CEDIK), University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service’s Community, Professional and Economic Development (UACES-CED), and Oklahoma State University Extension.   

Illinois Extension, North Carolina State Extension and New Mexico State Cooperative Extension Service joined the program in Phase 2. 

CREATE BRIDGES is built upon the Southern Rural Development Center led Stronger Economies Together (SET) initiative, a collaborative effort across 32 states that helped rural counties work together to develop and implement an economic development plan for their multi-county region.


CREATE BRIDGES ILLINOIS was formed to help rural communities explore economic opportunities by building capacity in the retail and hospitality industries. Susan Odum, Illinois Extension Specialist, Community Economic Development for Region 3 will be leading this exciting new initiative in Illinois. Members of the state-wide program team include: Zach Kennedy, Illinois Extension State Specialist, Community Economic Development; Nancy Ouedraogo, Illinois Extension Specialist, Community Economic Development; and Laura Payne, Illinois Extension Specialist, Recreation.    

Over the two-year pilot program, the state-wide program team will assist one rural, economically distressed region in: forming a regional steering committee; conducting an inventory of CREATE businesses and existing training programs; hosting a CREATE BRIDGES forum; implementing a business retention and expansion program; convening a CREATE academy; and developing and implementing new strategies and actions to strengthen the CREATE businesses in the region.

An announcement on the region selected for the pilot program was made on September 11, 2020.  

For general inquiries, contact Susan Odum, CREATE BRIDGES ILLINOIS State Program Lead at