Remarks on Rural America from Undersecretary for Rural Development Xochitl Torres Small

We were honored to hear from Undersecretary for Rural Development Xochitl Torres Small during  Rural Assembly Everywhere May 11, 2022. 

She spoke about the Biden administration’s priorities for rural, including the Rural Partners Network, Rural Innovation Stronger Economy or RISE grants, and other programs. 

This initiative is about equity because we must serve the left behind of the left behind,” Torres Small said of the new Rural Partners Network. “As you know so well, serving underserved communities is good for all Rural America and all America period.” 

 

Transcript

Hello everyone.

Thank you so much for including me in this important event. I look forward to sharing the Biden administration’s priorities for rural, but first I want to talk a little bit about your work. I want to thank you for what you do, for being unapologetically rural, for standing up for what you believe in, for telling the stories of rural America so vividly whether it’s through the Daily Yonder or Rural Assembly or through your voice in the media and your advocacy work. By doing what you do, you are bringing political and philosophical diversity to the rural space and through your existence and your stories you challenge other groups that have forgotten the importance and the diversity of rural communities.

That takes courage and it’s important. Because neglect of whole communities has consequences and so does disinvestment. You know that, and I appreciate what you do to build back connections in rural places and to urban places. I want to work with you to continue that work of connection and in particular of building partnerships across the line of politics. Partnerships are one of the key priorities of the Biden administration’s work in rural America.

I’ve been traveling a lot recently and I’m struck every single day by how much commonality can be found around local issues. You know this as well as I do: rural partnerships work really well across political lines. So we’re working with leaders on the ground to plan development regardless of party affiliation. For example in Arizona, I had a meeting with a Republican county commissioner and a Democrat community health care provider and the political boundary lines immediately disappeared because everyone was talking about water. Every project, the first thing everyone asked was, ‘Do we have the water to build it?’ That’s the impact of climate change on rural communities and leaders at the local level not only get it, they want to be part of the solution.

When I was in Minnesota, I talked to a Republican farmer who was so proud about his contribution to fighting climate change by producing ethanol. That’s a local story: A local solution that contributes to a global challenge and as you know there are so many stories like that throughout America’s rural communities and speaking of partnerships and priorities I’m excited to tell you about the Rural Partners Network which was just recently launched.

The Rural Partners Network is introducing a new way of doing business in government. It’s a collaboration among federal agencies that will improve access to government resources, staffing, and tools. Participating agencies are designating key points of contact who focus specifically on rural strategies, improving visibility, and attention to rural issues.

And the Rural Partners Network also puts federal staff on the ground to support designated economically challenged communities. We’re calling them community liaisons: federal employees who provide local leaders with the expertise to navigate federal programs. They’ll also help build relationships and identify additional resources to get the job done as their work progresses the lessons learned will impact future federal rural policy development and investment strategies. This is a direct effort to increase capacity in the communities that need it most.

This initiative is about equity because we must serve the left behind of the left behind. As you know so well serving underserved communities is good for all Rural America and all America period. 

There are a few other programs that I want to highlight because I think they’d be of particular interest to you. First, rural place making, which is a collaborative engagement process that helps leaders from rural communities create quality places where people will want to live work visit and learn by bringing together partners from public, private, philanthropic community and technology sectors. Place making is a wraparound approach to community and economic development that incorporates creativity infrastructure initiatives and vibrant public spaces.

You should also know about our Rural Innovation Stronger Economy or RISE grants. That’s a program offering grant assistance to create and augment high-wage jobs accelerate the formation of new businesses support industry clusters and maximize the use of local productive assets in eligible low-income rural areas if you want to know more about either of these programs or any of our work I encourage you to reach out to Rural Development state directors. They are an incredible resource and they live and work in the communities we serve. They also have unique access to rural stories that I know this group will want to hear and to share. 

I’ll close by asking you to join us in our efforts to build capacity, connections and partnerships however you can, beginning and ending with what you do best which is making the case to all of America that rural America matters. In particular we could use your help to spread the word about what we’re doing with the Rural Partners Network, including supporting philanthropic interest in capacity and long-term investment rather than one-off grants that don’t have the power to impact lasting change.

So I’ll simply say thank you again. You understand rural and you help others understand its importance. Thanks. I hope you have a wonderful event.

Presented by The Rural Assembly, Rural Assembly Everywhere is a virtual festival for rural advocates and the rural-curious, listeners and leaders, neighbors and admirers. See more from the Rural Assembly by subscribing to our weekly newsletter.

 

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