The purpose of this qualitative study was to construct a substantive theory with a core category and related categories that provides an explanation for how presidents of tribal colleges and community colleges in rural areas come to understand economic development and how they act on that understanding. The single situation grounded theory was constructed from interviews with eight presidents and referrals from two experts. The presidents led tribal and community colleges that have been members of the Rural Community College Alliance, were "associates" or "tribal" colleges, and were located in communities of less than 50,000. The theory's core category was embracing the economic development role which means adopting as a guiding principle doing what was required to make a lasting and measurable impact on the community and its economy. Critical to the contextual framework categories was the pronounced rural bias, affinity for tribal or community colleges, and personal humility of the presidents. It is possible this study will add to the field of leadership training for community college leaders and a better understanding of leadership in a rural setting. This theory may be useful to presidents who are asked to take on an economic development role, those who wish to hire a president who embraces this role, and professional associations that hope to mentor current and future presidents for tribal and community colleges in rural areas.