It's time to spotlight rural innovation.

And the Center on Rural Innovation's 2024 Conference — "From ideas to impact: Empowering rural development through innovation" — will do just that May 8-9 in Red Wing, Minnesota!

This inaugural event builds on the past success of CORI’s largest annual event, the members-only Rural Innovation Network Summit, and is an opportunity to bring together changemakers, thought leaders and others interested in leveraging technology to drive positive change in rural communities.

We're excited announce this year's keynote speakers include:

  • Craig Buerstatte, deputy assistant secretary for regional affairs at the U.S. Economic Development Administration
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  • Chris Estes, co-executive director of the Aspen Institute Community Strategies Group
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  • Mary Grove, managing partner at Bread and Butter Ventures

Who is this event for?

We are excited to extend our reach beyond our Network membership and open this year’s gathering to the public, welcoming traditional and non-traditional economic developers, educators, policymakers, individuals looking to shape the future of economic development, and others who are exploring the challenges and opportunities facing rural America.  

What will attendees learn at CORI Conference 2024?

Attendees will expand their network of rural economic development practitioners, break down the current state of rural economies, identify effective rural workforce development strategies, compare and contrast rural success case studies, and more.

Our agenda will be carefully curated and explore topics such as supporting scalable tech entrepreneurship, bridging the gap between tech careers and local skilling initiatives, and examining the latest data and research pertinent to rural development.

We also understand the importance of fostering meaningful connections and will ensure attendees have opportunities for networking and collaboration, to exchange ideas and create partnerships that can drive transformation across rural America. 

Now here's what else you need to know...


  • This year's gathering will take place at the St. James Hotel in downtown Red Wing.
  • The event room block at the St. James Hotel is now full. If you need accommodations for the conference, the Holiday Inn Express is a short, 5-minute drive from the venue. If you have any specific lodging-related questions, please reach out to our staff:!


  • All attendees must complete the registration form.
  • Tickets to attend this year's event cost $150. A limited number are available.
  • The full schedule of events and relevant FAQs are available below. If you have questions, don't hesitate to get in touch with Julian Waddell at


  • Interested in supporting this year's event? Explore our sponsorship guide to learn about how you can support CORI Conference 2024 and contact Emily Szamocki for more information.

How to register for CORI Conference 2024

Tickets to attend this year's two-day event in Red Wing are $150 — a limited number are available.

Registration for this event closes April 22. 

Interested in becoming a sponsor?

Explore our sponsorship guide to learn about how you can support CORI Conference 2024 and contact Emily Szamocki for more information.

We're here to help!

Have questions? Don't hesitate to reach out about for more details about the event, travel, participation, attendance, etc.

Are you a member of the media interested in attending or covering "From Ideas to Impact"? Contact Emily Wood to register for free.

Scroll down to view the detailed schedule and FAQs.

Are you a member of the media interested in attending or covering "From Ideas to Impact"?

Contact Emily Wood to register for free.

Get to know our host community, Red Wing


If you've never been to Red Wing, get ready to meet a community that's on the cutting edge of what tech-based economic development looks like in rural America.

Located an hour southeast from Minnesota's Twin Cities, this city of nearly 17,000 offers gigabit-speed broadband. Outdoor opportunities abound with the mighty Mississippi River and nearby Lake Pepin, the birthplace of water skiing, as well as hiking trails along the bluffs and green spaces close to downtown.

It's also a regional business hub thanks to Red Wing Ignite, a member of CORI's Rural Innovation Network since 2019, which has spearheaded the region’s tech-based economic development work, connecting key sectors of the community to share ideas, resources, and expertise that spur innovation. Since opening in 2013, Red Wing Ignite has served more than 340 entrepreneurs and secured more than $5 million in EDA grant funding to support its efforts. Its annual pitch competition, the E1 Ignite Cup, has showcased exciting startups for nearly a decade and served as a springboard to state- and national-level competitions.

CORI is excited that attendees of this year's Summit and Conference will have a chance to explore and learn everything Red Wing has to offer as a model for supporting rural innovation.


CORI Conference 2024 schedule


Registration and breakfast —  7-9 a.m. 

Welcome and opening remarks — 9 a.m. 
Breyana Ray, director of the Rural Innovation Network, Center on Rural Innovation

Introduction — 9:30 a.m.
Center on Rural Innovation Founder and Executive Director Matt Dunne

Keynote — 10 a.m.
Keynote address by Craig Buerstatte, deputy assistant secretary for regional affairs, U.S. Economic Development Administration 

  • Craig Buerstatte is an entrepreneurial public servant who is passionate about building teams, businesses, and communities for the future. He first honed his innovation skills in remote areas of Iraq as an Army officer, developing new supply chain solutions and infrastructure when resources were strained. Craig leveraged this experience to jump into entrepreneurship, founding a technology firm and investing in startups in Austin, Texas, before returning to public service at the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA). Craig serves as EDA’s deputy assistant secretary for regional affairs, responsible for the implementation, growth, and evaluation of EDA’s economic development programs and policies that create more robust and resilient regional economies across America. He earned a B.S. in economics from the United States Military Academy, and an MBA from the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University.

Session 1 — 10:30 a.m.
Fireside chat with Mary Grove 

  • Join us for an inspiring fireside chat with Mary Grove, managing partner of Bread and Butter Ventures, as she shares her journey, expertise and approach on investing in early stage startups. With a keen focus on unlocking talent in unexpected areas, she will share insights into the challenges and barriers she has encountered highlighting her belief that innovation knows no boundaries. 

Break — 11:15 a.m.

Session 2 —  11:30 a.m. 
The Rural Aperture Project: Part I

  • The Rural Aperture Project provides insight to help equip stakeholders with data visualizations, analysis, and narratives to enhance their understanding and support for rural prosperity and equity initiatives. It highlights the diversity within rural America, challenges stereotypes, and emphasizes the impact of broader economic shifts on rural communities, while also showcasing examples of progress in addressing the barriers rural communities face. In the first part of this two-part session, CORI Director of Research, Knowledge, and Evaluation Dr. Amanda Weinstein will present a deep dive into how different definitions of rural paint vastly different pictures of rural America with implications for how rural areas are funded and how stories about rural are told.

Lunch — 12:30 p.m.

Session 3 — 1:30 p.m.
The Rural Aperture Project: Part II

  • In the second half of this two-part session, Dr. Weinstein will present how shifts in economic headwinds have affected rural towns and what some places are doing to refocus efforts to unlock access to economic opportunity within their hometowns.

Session 4 — 2:30 p.m.
Overcoming barriers to tech talent pipeline success with cross-sector collaboration

  • In the rapidly evolving landscape of technological innovation, the cultivation of tech talent is critical for community prosperity. This panel discussion aims to shed light on the essential role of cross-sector collaboration in overcoming the challenges to tech talent pipeline success, featuring insights from Brittany Corde, senior program officer for Ascendium; Rose Reza, executive director for UNM-Taos HIVE; and Mignonne Hollis, executive director, and Sarah Pacheco, assistant economic development director, of the Arizona Regional Economic Development Foundation. By drawing on first-hand experiences along with learnings from communities, the session will highlight the unique obstacles these communities face, showcase successful strategies for collaboration across educational institutions, local government, businesses, and nonprofit organizations, and provide actionable insights for others seeking to replicate this success.

Session 5 — 3:30 p.m.
Dirigo Labs: Startup Accelerator

  • Join us as we delve into the dynamic world of Rural Innovation Network member Dirigo Labs in Waterville, Maine, a collaborative nexus for startups navigating the entrepreneurial landscape. We will explore the transformative impact of this vital accelerator and how it empowers new founders to navigate the complexities of entrepreneurship and achieve their goals.

Self-guided tour

  • Immerse yourself into the character and charm of downtown Red Wing with a self-guided walking tour showcasing its rich heritage and eclectic mix of shops and historic buildings. Visit the Red Wing Shoe Company Museum and meander through the residential streets to admire the city's architectural gems.  

Dinner on your own


Breakfast and networking — 8 a.m.

Welcome — 9 a.m. 

Session 1 — 9:05 a.m.
Building regional collaboratives

  • Join Stacy Nimmo, executive director of Red Wing Ignite, along with Tim Penny, president and CEO, and Pam Bishop, vice president of entrepreneurship, of the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation, as they provide a comprehensive overview of the development and evolution of the Entrepreneurs First (E-1) Collaborative across 11 counties in southeastern Minnesota. Learn how this collaborative initiative has evolved over the years to become a cornerstone of economic development in the region.

Session 2 — 9:50 a.m.
A rural entrepreneur's journey from idea to impact

  • In this panel discussion, seasoned rural tech entrepreneurs share their journeys from ideation to impactful ventures. We’ll delve into the origin story of their startups, the hurdles they faced, and the lessons they learned along the way. Discover how community support played a pivotal role in their growth, and gain actionable insights into navigating the unique challenges of rural entrepreneurship. Join us for a lively discussion that celebrates the ingenuity, resilience, and transformative potential of rural tech entrepreneurship.

Break, 10:30 a.m.

Session 3 — 10:45 a.m.
The power of rural innovation

  • Experience a dynamic session led by Chris Carnell, co-founder of Codefi in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, the first technology incubator in the southeast region of Missouri. During this presentation, Chris will unveil inspiring anecdotes illustrating the importance of embracing technology, nurturing tech entrepreneurship, and fostering innovation to mold economic strategies tailored to rural communities. His stories will vividly demonstrate the potential unleashed when rural talent is prioritized.

Session 4 — 11:45
Charting paths to rural success

  • Join us for an enlightening session led by Chris Estes, co-executive director of the Aspen Institute and a national rural development leader. Chris brings a wealth of experience and expertise in fostering equitable, sustainable, and holistic approaches to strengthening rural communities. In this session, Chris will provide an overview of pressing issues facing rural communities and address the question of how we measure success and assess our impact in rural development initiatives.   

Closing remarks — 12:30 p.m.

Frequently asked questions

What is the schedule? 

  • We anticipate that the full schedule will be available mid-March. 

What should we wear? 

  • Attire is business casual.

Will food be provided? What should we plan on for meals? 

  • Breakfast will be provided each day.
  • We will also provide lunch on the first day.

Where will the events take place?

  • The Conference will take place at the St. James Hotel.

Where is the St. James Hotel?

  • Hotel address: 406 Main St., Red Wing, MN 55066
  • Check-in: After 4 p.m.
  • Check-out: Before 11 a.m.
  • Please note, this historic hotel sits along the beautiful Mississippi river but is also along a working train line. Ear plugs are available at the front desk, upon request. 

Do we have to stay at the hotel?

  • No — you can certainly stay wherever you would like. The discounted rate at the hotel is only available until April 4th.
  • Also note: The discount code should generate at the link listed above (and here) but just in case, you can add 5968 to the group code field when you select a room.

What dates can be booked?

  • The discounted rate is applicable May 5 through May 10.

What information can you share about transportation?

  • The nearest airport is Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, which is located approximately 50 miles from Red Wing.  
  • Amtrak also has a station located behind the hotel. This would be a great scenic route if available from your area!

What is the cost of the conference?