New White House Rural Council Promises Investment, Jobs

WASHINGTON, DC, June 9, 2011 (ENS) – President Barack Obama today established the first White House Rural Council to boost job creation and economic development by increasing the flow of capital to rural areas.

“Strong rural communities are key to a stronger America,” said President Obama, signing the Executive Order that authorizes the new body. “That’s why I’ve established the White House Rural Council to make sure we’re working across government to strengthen rural communities and promote economic growth.”

The White House Rural Council will coordinate programs across the federal 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 rural stakeholders, including agricultural organizations, small businesses, and state, local, and tribal governments.

“Rural America makes significant contributions to the security, prosperity, and economic strength of our country,” said Vilsack, a former governor of Iowa, a farming state.

Keokuk County, Iowa 4-H Club members display their harvest, 2008 (Photo by Iowa 4-H)

The Council also will promote innovation, expand digital and physical networks, and expand opportunities for conservation, outdoor recreation and economic growth on working lands and public lands, the White House said in a statement today.

“The Rural Council announced by President Obama shows his continued focus on promoting economic opportunity, creating jobs, and enhancing the quality of life for those who live in rural America,” Vilsack said.

Sixteen percent of the American population lives in rural counties, said the President in his Executive Order. “Strong, sustainable rural communities are essential to winning the future and ensuring American competitiveness in the years ahead.”

“These communities supply our food, fiber, and energy, safeguard our natural resources, and are essential in the development of science and innovation,” Obama said.

Twenty-five federal agencies are represented on the Rural Council including Treasury, Defense, Justice, Energy, Education, Transportation, Housing, Health and Human Services, Veterans Affairs, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of the Interior.

Interior Secretary Salazar told reporters on a briefing teleconference, “We will participate in that effort with focus on rural America.”

“Renewable energy is already permitted on public lands in the amount of 4000 megawatts,” Salazar said, and more renewable energy projects are coming.

He said the Obama administration’s “conservation agenda is being implemented all around the country” and hunting, fishing and recreation opportunities will be further developed through the activities of the Rural Council.

Also, said Salazar, there is “the special connection” Interior has with America’s 565 tribal nations that will be part of the Rural Council’s work.

The Council will begin by 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
  • Infrastructure: Coordinate investment in critical infrastructure
  • Ecosystem markets: Expanding opportunities for conservation, outdoor opportunities and economic growth on working lands and public lands
  • Broadband: The Obama Administration has set goals of modernizing infrastructure by providing broadband access to 10 million Americans, expanding educational opportunities for students in rural areas, and providing affordable health care.

During the George W. Bush administration, 37 states established rural development councils certified by the United States Department of Agriculture through provisions of the 2002 Farm Bill that established the National Rural Development Partnership.

The National Rural Development Council authorized under that Partnership brings together representatives of over 40 federal agencies and national organizations “to provide a uniquely rural perspective to federal policy and program development.”

The new White House Rural Council is expected to revitalize that relationship.

Obama said in his Executive Order today, “Though rural communities face numerous challenges, they also present enormous economic potential. The Federal Government has an important role to play in order to expand access to the capital necessary for economic growth, promote innovation, improve access to health care and education, and expand outdoor recreational activities on public lands.”

Copyright Environment News Service,ENS, 2011. All rights reserved.