Late last week, the White House announced the establishment of the first White House Rural Council. According to the press release, the Council will coordinate programs across government to encourage public-private partnerships to promote further economic prosperity and quality of life in rural communities nationwide. Chaired by Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, the Council will be responsible for providing recommendations for investment in rural areas and will coordinate Federal engagement with a variety of rural stakeholders, including agricultural organizations, small businesses, and state, local, and tribal governments. Read more from Secretary Vilsack on the White House Rural Council.
There have been discussions here and there about just what this means for those of us involved in rural development. The reaction has ranged from declaring the Council’s formation a re-election move by President Obama’s administration to concern that federal program currently at work will be impacted negatively. The Daily Yonder covered it in last week’s Thursday Roundup and the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition posted last week about it as well.
However, amid the discussion, I see a bright spot for those of us working within the Michigan Rural Network. In the President’s press release about the Rural Council’s formation, the focus of the Council is listed as follows:
“In the coming months, the White House Rural Council will focus on job creation and economic development by increasing the flow of capital to rural areas, promoting innovation, expanding digital and physical networks, and celebrating opportunity through America’s natural resources. The Council will begin discussing key factors for growth, including:
- Jobs: Improve job training and workforce development in rural America
- Agriculture: Expand markets for agriculture, including regional food systems and exports
- Access to Credit: Increase opportunity by expanding access to capital in rural communities and fostering local investment
- Innovation: Promote the expansion of biofuels production capacity and community based renewable energy projects
- Networks: Develop high-growth regional economies by capitalizing on inherent regional strengths
- Health Care: Improve access to quality health care through expansion of health technology systems
- Education: Increase post-secondary enrollment rates and completion for rural students
- Broadband: Support the President’s plan to increase broadband opportunities in rural America
- Infrastructure: Coordinate investment in critical infrastructure
- Ecosystem markets: Expanding opportunities for conservation, outdoor opportunities and economic growth on working lands and public lands”
The Michigan Rural Network is already focusing on economic development in Michigan by doing all of those things! And the list of key factors put forth by the White House matches up nearly perfectly with MRN’s Policy Agenda for rural Michigan. I am not trying to claim credit as these are ideas being explored by many other groups and individuals as well. I simply hope that rural Michigan is able to capitalize on any movement, momentum or action that is generated by the newly established Rural Council.
So what do you think the Council should tackle first? What would you like to see happen as a result of the Council’s formation?