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Taking Stock of a New Agenda for Rural America

In a recent article for Nebraska public radio, rural development experts, including LISC CEO Maurice Jones, weighed in on a new White House agenda for economic growth in rural America. The plan's emphasis on investing in infrastructure could be a plus, Jones said, noting that boosting access to broadband internet would allow for wider use of online classes and professional training. “If you have the talent that’s prepared for the jobs, the jobs will come," said Jones.

The excerpt below is from:
The Trump Administration’s Give And Take On Rural Development
by Grant Gerlock, NET News/Harvest Public Media

The White House has been laying out its rural agenda in early 2018. It suggested a list of broad ideas in January to spark growth and carved out rural interests in a $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan.

“It’s undeniable they’ve made rural development a top topic of discussion,” says Arthur Scott, a legislative director with the National Association of County Officials.

But those who work on rural development aren’t all sure the White House has people’s best interests at heart, given that Trump has proposed making cuts to programs that benefit those areas the most.

Give: Infrastructure plan

When President Donald Trump met with state and local officials on Feb. 12th to detail the administration’s infrastructure proposal, he highlighted a special appropriation for rural areas.

“It provides $50 billion for rural infrastructure, who have really been left out. The rural folks have been left out,” Trump said.

Eighty percent of that would be given to states based on population and the length of country roads; governors would choose how to dole it out from there. The proposed criteria did not include unemployment rates or inequalities along economic or racial lines, though it does recommend dedicated funding for Native American tribes and U.S. territories.

The goal, Trump said, is to spark job growth by building new roads and upgrading utilities, including access to high-speed broadband internet, “which they don’t have and they want it,” Trump said.

Actually, according to the president’s task force, about 60 percent of rural residents have high-speed internet.

But the focus on expanding access puts the administration on the right track, according to Maurice Jones, CEO of the community development nonprofit Local Initiatives Support Corporation. He said it’s key to “catalyze economic dynamism” because it allows wider access to online classes and professional training.

“We’re talking welders and electricians, coding and medical technicians,” Jones said. “If you have the talent that’s prepared for the jobs, the jobs will come.”

But there are other proposals from the administration that give rural advocates like Jones pause.

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