Five key indicators in practice: to achieve the vision of a better rural America
The Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity, charged by President Trump with finding ways to help improve life in rural America, released its report in January. Led by U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue and including more than 21 federal agencies and local leaders, the group identified more than 100 actions the federal government could consider to achieve the vision of a better rural America.
Five Key Indicators
The identified actions include legislative, regulatory and policy changes built around five key indicators:
- Connectivity for rural America. Access to high-speed, high-capacity internet is necessary for rural Americans, yet 39 percent lack sufficient access.
- Quality of life improvement. Poverty rates are disproportionately high, affordable housing is becoming more difficult to attain, and health problems can be exceptionally hard to overcome—as insufficient access to medical care or even basic necessities like drinking water can become an issue.
- Support for a rural workforce. For decades, rural employment has grown more slowly than urban employment, and it was the slowest to recover from the recession. Meanwhile, the potential rural workforce has gone untrained and underdeveloped.
- Technological innovation. To meet the food demand of a growing global population, rural areas need to be able to properly use modern innovations to increase farmland output and improve crop quality, nutritional value and food safety. Manufacturing and mining technological advancement can also enhance efficiency and safety in the workforce.
- Rural economic development. Infusing rural areas with stronger businesses and agricultural economies empowers America and requires key regulatory reforms, streamlining of processes and improved interagency coordination to create conditions allowing the rural economy to thrive.
USDA Rural Development has resources, in the form of strategic partnerships and 40+ programs, that it can bring to the table to help address these issues.
e-Connectivity is viewed as an overarching improvement that contributes positively to all of the others. Electronic connectivity is more than an amenity—it connects households, schools and healthcare centers to each other and to the rest of the world. It is a tool that enables increased productivity for farms, factories, forests and small businesses. It is fundamental for economic development, innovation, advancements in technology, workforce readiness and an improved quality of life. Reliable and affordable high-speed internet connectivity will transform rural America as a key catalyst for prosperity.
Rural Development addresses the need for e-Connectivity on two levels through the Rural Utilities Service (RUS). One is at the infrastructure level, by helping communities gain access to high-speed internet through broadband loans and grants. The other is at the usage level, through distance learning and telemedicine grants.
Take for example, the recently completed projects in Clay County. Wabash Telephone Cooperative (WTC) has been working to ensure that 100 percent of its subscribers have access to fiber-optic internet. With the help of $31 million in low-interest broadband loans from Rural Development, that goal was accomplished in December. That is an e-Connectivity improvement.
Meanwhile, Clay County Hospital, located about 10 miles away and a user of the WTC service, applied for and received a $58,000 grant to equip its ambulances with telemedicine capabilities. As a result, emergency medical personnel can perform diagnostic tests and, while en route, relay the results to doctors at the hospital to receive guidance that can save time and lives. That is a quality of life improvement.
With access to high-speed internet, local grain elevators can receive information on grain prices and be able to submit bids instantly and competitively. That speed and efficiency can mean significant profits for the elevator and the farmers it serves. That is a technological innovation with economic benefit.
The local high school now has the capability of engaging in distance learning for its students, bringing educational opportunities into the classroom that are beyond the scope of its hiring capacity. That is an improvement benefitting and training a future workforce.
Multiple businesses are running online operations, some globally, while individuals can work from home without taking their time, energy and money to another town. That is a stronger local economy.
e-Connectivity may be essential, but it isn’t the only component for rural prosperity in the future. With a full spectrum of programs to address housing, business, water, infrastructure, public safety and other essential community needs, Rural Development stands ready to continue its mission of improving the quality of life in rural Illinois. That is what we do. iBi
Douglas Wilson is the state director for USDA Rural Development in Illinois. The full Agriculture and Rural Prosperity Task Force report can be accessed from the home page carousel of the USDA Rural Development in Illinois website at rd.usda.gov/il.