Task Force Creates a Road Map for Rural America
On the day U.S. Ag Secretary Sonny Purdue took office, President Trump signed an executive order that created an Agriculture and Rural Prosperity task force. It was created specifically to identify ways for the federal government to come together to improve life in rural America. More than 21 different federal agencies were brought together, all with resources to assist rural communities. Input was also gathered from ag and rural stakeholders across the country.
Anne Hazlett is USDA’s Assistant to the Secretary for Rural Development. She says the task force identified dozens of recommendations for the federal government to consider that would improve life in rural America. The recommendations center around these five areas.
1. Better e-Connectivity for Rural America
Access to high-speed, high-capacity internet is necessary for everything from health care to education to market access is necessary for rural Americans, just like it is for people living in urban areas.
“Right now, nearly 40% of rural Americans lack access to sufficient broadband and this must change,” says Hazlett.
The task force recommends incentivizing private capital investment, including the use of public-private partnerships. It also wants to make investment in high-speed internet infrastructure more attractive by streamlining the burdensome review, approval, and permitting processes.
2. Quality of Life
There are pieces of a community that enable the people living there to experience a high quality of life and must be addressed. They include modern utilities, affordable housing, efficient transportation, access to medical service, public safety, and quality education. Hazlett says, as part of this effort, a wide range of federal departments and agencies are also focused on crafting an effective response to the opioid epidemic.
“We are really looking at how we can best support rural communities in designing and building solutions that are based on their own specific needs and their strengths,” says Hazlett.
Learn more: Fighting Back in Rural America’s Opioid Crisis
3. Rural Workforce
Today’s rural areas are more economically diverse than in the past, which prevents an opportunity for growth in the workforce sector. However, employers want to locate where they know there is a workforce that’s ready for them. Hazlett says the task force found that a data-driven analysis of employee skills and job requirements is needed to help match curriculum and training programs to best serve those employers’ workforce goals.
“One of the things that they looked at is career mapping within the education system beginning with K-12 education and continuing through higher levels,” says Hazlett. “What is needed there to help prepare the workforce of the future to fit rural economies?”
The task force concluded that there is tremendous opportunity with the food demand for a growing worldwide population. Globally, the biotechnology sector is a driver. Hazlett says the task force believes this presents an unprecedented opportunity for American farmers and rural communities to excel in the front lines of innovation.
“We have technology innovation in agriculture, but beyond we see innovation in manufacturing and mining technology that can also enhance the efficiency and safety of the rural workforce,” says Hazlett.
5. Economic Development
The task force found that infusing rural areas with stronger businesses and investing in rural economic development will empower not only these places, but also all of America. Rural business men and women, entrepreneurs, and beginning farmers and ranchers need improved access to capital to help them start, grow, and expand.
“We believe that enabling rural-based investment partnerships, whether they’re public or private, can help communities identify and develop projects that are best suited for investment, economic growth, and job creation,” says Hazlett. “Then beyond capital, the task force determined that identifying key regulatory reforms, streamlining processes, and improving inner-agency coordination is needed to create conditions in which the rural economy can thrive.”
The task force and its effort is much broader than the USDA and the issues that would fall within the jurisdiction of the agriculture committees in Congress.
“With Congress preparing to write this important (Farm Bill) legislation, we certainly hope that the task force report will serve as a fresh, strong, and valuable resource to those policymakers as they look at the magnitude of issues that impact these places that the legislation is designed to benefit,” says Hazlett.
With a clear road map, she says things are expected to start happening quickly. There are recommendations that can be worked on now such as regulatory reform and inner-agency partnerships. Hazlett says this will make the federal government more effective and efficient when working toward solving rural America’s challenges and maximizing its opportunities.