LANSING, Mich. — Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) Director Gary McDowell is pleased to announce the selection of Sarah Lucas to lead the newly created Office of Rural Development, effective Monday, April 18.
In January, Governor Gretchen Whitmer established the Office of Rural Development within MDARD via Executive Directive 2022-01 to focus on the strategic needs of rural Michigan, including economic and workforce development, infrastructure, public health, and environmental sustainability.
“Having spent most of her career in small towns and rural areas in northwest Lower Michigan and the Upper Peninsula, Sarah has deep connection and understanding of the challenges facing our rural communities. Her 20 plus years of passion and experience will serve Michiganders well,” said McDowell. “Rural Michigan is a fundamental part of Michigan’s economy. This new office will play a crucial role in supporting MDARD’s efforts and leading new ones as we work together to build a more prosperous rural economy.”
As the Deputy for Rural Development, Lucas will serve as the state’s point of contact for community leaders on urgent rural issues. By creating the Office of Rural Development, the Whitmer-Gilchrist Administration recognizes the unique challenges and opportunities in the state’s rural communities, as well as the need to implement sound policies and investments that put Michiganders first.
“Through inclusive collaboration, we are committed to investing in our rural communities and businesses through job creation, infrastructure and housing expansion, and environmental sustainability” added McDowell. “Sarah will be laser-focused on reinvigorating Michigan’s rural economies and being their partner on the critical issues they are facing.”
Lucas, AICP, has a 20-year career in community and economic development in small communities and rural areas in Michigan, leading a variety of cross-sector initiatives and planning efforts resulting in long-lasting coalitions, local and state policy change, and enhanced regional capacity for growth and investment. Previously she served as the CEO of the Lake Superior Community Partnership, Marquette County’s leading resource and advocate for economic development.
Prior to her work with Lake Superior Community Partnership, Sarah served as the Community Development Director for Networks Northwest, a 10-county regional planning agency in Northwest Lower Michigan; led the development of Housing North, a regional organization devoted to policy and communications solutions to housing needs in Northwest Lower Michigan; and, after relocating to Marquette in 2020, worked with the Western Upper Peninsula Planning and Development Region to develop a regional economic development plan for “building back stronger” in the region’s post-pandemic economy.
Additionally, Lucas serves on several regional and statewide boards, including the Community and Economic Development Association of Michigan, the Economic Development Leaders of Michigan, and the Michigan Association of Planning, where she currently serves as Board President.
She is a graduate of Eastern Michigan University and is currently an MPA candidate at Northern Michigan University. She lives in Marquette with her husband and their three boys.
For more information, please visit the website at Michigan.gov/MDARD-ORD. If you’re looking to contact the Office of Rural Development, please send an email to MDARD-ORD@michigan.gov.
— Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development