Monday, September 10, 2007

Rx for rural job growth: regional cooperation to overcome old jealousies, rivalries, expert says

Rural communities prosper when they learn to “get beyond the petty jealousies of Friday night football,” Mark Drabenstott of the Rural Policy Research Institute, right, told the Texas Rural Innovators Forum last week. What he means is, rural economic development is very, very difficult one county at a time; regional cooperation is the key, and that can be tough due to longstanding rivalries and/or jealousies.

Regional cooperation is necessary because most rural areas "lack the critical mass of employers, educated workers and amenities found in cities, and many rural areas have become too dependent on the production of commodities," the Daily Yonder reports in its account of Drabenstott's speech. "As a result, income and job creation has lagged in rural America. Only four rural counties were among the top 10 percent in income creation between 1995 and 2005," and all those were in or near coastal cities.

For decades, rural areas recruited factories with low wages, taxes and land costs. In a globalized economy, factories are going where work can be done most cheaply, and workers are going where they can best use their skills and enjoy life. That means a "brain drain" from rural areas. Rural towns once use low crime rates as a recruiting angle, but Drabenstott said that no longer works. He said they must provide a higher quality of life and opportunity for entrepreneurs, who create most of the new jobs in America.

"Regional cooperation in rural America is rare, however," the Yonder reports. "In most successful regional collaborations, Drabenstott said, there is an organization that brings the community together — a “King Arthur” who creates the regional roundtable. In many cases, the catalyst of regional cooperation is either a non-profit group or a university or community college." Click here to listen to the 50-minute speech.

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