White House rural council established

Early this month the White House announced the establishment of the first White House Rural Council.  The Council is charged with building on the Obama Administration’s rural economic strategy by developing and coordinating programs to promote rural prosperity.

The Council, under the chairmanship of Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, will make recommendations regarding investment in rural areas and coordinate Federal engagement of rural stakeholders, including agricultural organizations, small businesses, and local and state governments.

The Council is expected to focus on the following key factors and strategies for rural growth:

  • 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

Although not explicitly addressed in the White House statement, several experts have pointed out that the formation of the Council coincides with current discussions to move rural housing programs out of the USDA into HUD. HUD is one of 23 agencies comprising the Council. The House Financial Services Subcommittee on Insurance, Housing and Community Opportunity is considering the shift, although some rural housing advocates have expressed concern about HUD’s capacity and expertise for managing rural housing issues.

The Executive Order does not mention objectives related to increasing rural philanthropic resources. Recently an idea for Federal subsidization of rural community foundation endowment building started developing among the Council on Foundations and various Capitol Hill leaders. The concept emerged in response to the longstanding critique that national foundations have not invested in rural communities. The Rural Philanthropy Growth Act, as it’s being called, would create a public initiative to build endowments in rural communities, and involve philanthropists in public education and engagement to expand and protect rural resources.

For Rick Cohen’s analysis of how the Federal government/rural philanthropy program might play out, visit the Nonprofit Quarterly. You can read the Executive Statement (PDF) establishing the White House Rural Council here.

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