Rio Dell - Homegrown Tools

Rio Dell, CA

Updated: 2022

This is a story about small steps making a big difference. Once a run-down community with an inferiority complex, Rio Dell took simple steps to clean up the town and re-invigorate civic pride.

Median Household Income2020$38,589
Poverty Rate 20207.1%
Proximity to Urban Center 265 miles to Sacramento, Calif.
Proximity to Interstate Highway 150 miles
Case Study Time Frame 2002-2007
Municipal Budget 2021-20227.6 million
Data Source: US Census, American Community Survey
View Complete Case StudyUpdated: Rio Dell, 2022

Rio Dell’s economic development strategy is to clean up the town and revitalize its critical infrastructure to make the community attractive to outside investors. In this case, small steps and simple projects have improved the visual appeal of the community and the quality of its infrastructure. In 2002, town officials received grant money for the Gateway Project, a series of beautification projects at the town’s main entrance. The town also partnered with the St. Joseph Community Resource Center to improve downtown facades and offer recreation opportunities in town. In 2006, Rio Dell completed a new $8.2 million water treatment system. Rio Dell is now seeing the fruit of its labor – private investment in the downtown, new job creation and increasing civic pride.


What are the lessons learned from this story?


Small projects can build momentum for addressing larger challenges. In the case of Rio Dell, the community was facing a dilapidated water and wastewater infrastructure, a run-down appearance and an apathetic public. A committed group of community leaders initiated small, self-contained projects to clean up the town. These projects demonstrated that the community was capable of helping itself. They boosted morale and brought the community to a point where it could begin dealing with major infrastructural challenges.


Maintaining and improving basic infrastructure is a necessary part of an economic development strategy. While current trends may emphasize new infrastructure such as broadband and wireless telecommunications, small communities must pay attention to their basic infrastructure if they want to attract investment. For Rio Dell, improvements to the water supply system have played a role in triggering new private investment into the community – economic development investments that would not have come otherwise.