White House report: 'Strengthening the Rural Economy'

A new report from the White House Council of Economic Advisors examines the rural economy and lays out steps designed to "ensure the prosperity and vitality of rural America." The report, released Tuesday, April 27, 2010, coincides with the president's two-day tour of rural communities in the Midwest, which concludes April 28.

The rural economic report strikes a tone that will be familiar to anyone who pays attention to rural issues. Alongside the usual litany of rural difficulties (higher poverty rates, lower wages, less educational attainment, an aging workforce, etc.), there is a list of opportunities (renewable energy production, small business development, recreation and tourism, agricultural innovation, and building new infrastructure).

The 42-page document summarizes current federal programs that the Council of Economic Advisors thinks are helping in rural America. And it identifies possible additional policy initiatives. Most of the discussion focuses on rural aspects of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 in areas such as business development, clean energy investment, education, public land conservation, and infrastructure improvements such as new water systems.

Among the list of future proposals are the following:

  • The Rural Innovation Initiative, a regional economic planning effort of federal, state, and local agencies, led by the Department of Agriculture.
  • Promotion of "regional innovation clusters" through the Small Business Administration and the Economic Development Administration.
  • Increased funding for renewable energy research, which will complement new federal investments in biofuels and wind energy production that the report says will benefit rural areas. Enforcing limits on greenhouse gas emissions will also spur renewable energy development in rural areas, the report states.
  • Continued support of forest restoration, fire suppression, and other conservation programs on public and private lands.
  • More than $1 billion in loans and grants for telecommunications improvements and "to help transition rural economies into the modern information economy."
  • Opening markets for agricultural exports through the administration's National Export Initiative.
  • Reforming federal agriculture supports to move support away from "the wealthiest farmers" to less affluent farmers.
  • Promoting local and regional food systems.

More on the report and the president's tour of the rural Midwest is available at the White House website.