Meet the Woman Tasked With Helping to Bring Economic Development to Rural Michigan

Photo of Sarah Lucas courtesy of Office of Rural Development

By Kaishi Chhabra

March 21, 2022

The Office of Rural Development—created by Gov. Whitmer earlier this year in an effort to better support rural communities—has appointed a leader.

Need to Know

  • Sarah Lucas will start her term as Deputy for Rural Development on April 18. 
  • She has a 20-plus-year career in economic development for rural Michigan.
  • The ORD will work to create jobs, facilitate affordable housing development, expand access to high-speed internet, and more in rural communities.

MICHIGAN— Sarah Lucas has two decades worth of experience in helping small communities and rural areas across Michigan grow—and she was just appointed the new leader of Michigan’s recently created Office of Rural Development (ORD). 

Lucas, who currently calls Marquette County home, will begin her new role as deputy of ORD, serving as the state’s point of contact for rural community leaders, on April 18. 

“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 Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) Director Gary McDowell in a press release last week. “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.”

Previously, Lucas was the CEO of Lake Superior Community Partnership, Marquette County’s leading resource and advocate for economic development. She also 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 holds the Board President title, at present.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer established the ORD in January via executive directive in an effort to better support the parts of Michigan that too often are overlooked. Her proposed budget includes $10 million for the office . 

“The pandemic shined a light on the large number of needs in rural areas that have been overlooked for years,” McDowell told The Ticker in an interview last month. “You talk about broadband; you talk about healthcare; you talk about housing; you talk about labor issues. In all these areas [our rural regions] have been falling behind for a long time.”

According to the governor’s office, the ORD will work to create jobs, facilitate affordable housing development, expand access to high-speed internet, provide guidance on education-related issues, and coordinate with Michigan tribal leaders. Importantly, the office will also be tasked with analyzing population and demographic trends in rural parts of the state in order to find better ways to serve those areas.  

With the installment of Lucas—who’s led a variety of cross-sector initiatives and planning efforts, some resulting in local and state policy change—as head of ORD, Michigan is one step closer to better addressing the unique challenges facing rural communities. 


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