Saturday, September 02, 2017

Talking about poor health as an obstacle to progress in Appalachia, and what to do about it

By Melissa Patrick
Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. -- Appalachia faces many hurdles when it comes to economic development and creating a healthy workforce, including education barriers, addiction issues, stigma and overall poor health.

Those were the conclusions of a 13-member panel convened to discuss the findings of two new Appalachian Regional Commission reports that found Appalachian health continues to fall behind the rest of the nation, and how that affects economic development.

"Without a healthy workforce, the economic prospects in the region are greatly diminished," declared Julie Marshall, an ARC economist and a principal investigator for the "Health Disparities in Appalachia" report.

The second report, "Diseases of Despair," looked at deaths from overdose, suicide and alcohol-related liver diseases in Appalachian and found them to be 37 percent higher than the rest of the nation: Overdose deaths were 65 percent higher, suicide deaths were 20 percent higher, and alcoholic liver-disease deaths were 8 percent higher.

Michael Meit, lead author of the study, reminded the panel that it's important to look beyond poverty as the only reason for these high rates, pointing out that some Appalachian states, like Mississippi and Georgia, have high poverty levels, but lower death rates for these measures.

Meeting in Johnson City, Tenn., the panel said addiction -- to opioids, alcohol, methamphetamine and cocaine -- is a major workforce issue in the region.

Dan Eldridge, the mayor of surrounding Washington County, said he had recently talked to a company looking to bring more than 600 jobs to his area, and spent most of the time talking about the region's workforce. And when he asked why, they told him that among other things, one of their selection criteria was access to a drug-free workforce and "this region of the country does not have a good reputation."

Eldridge said he thought one contributor to the problem is that high-school students who aren't college-bound don't have any plans for the future, and their drug use seems to increase after they graduate.

Randy Wykoff, dean of the East Tennessee State University College of Public Health, said it's time to bring people together from different sectors -- health-care providers, the criminal-justice system, advocacy groups and people with substance-use disorders --  to "rethink this whole thing." He said it's time to quit putting people in jails who need rehabilitation and treatment.

Successes and strategies

Eldridge said his county has a program that teaches employees how to recognize personal or work-related problems and encourages employers to implement employee-assistance programs to address them.

Mike Caudill, CEO of the Mountain Comprehensive Health Corp., a federally qualified health center in Whitesburg, Ky., pointed to its "Farmacy" program as one of their many successes.

The grant-funded program gives qualifying individuals a "prescription" for fresh fruits and vegetables at their local farmers' market. Caudill noted that one of their participants lowered his A1C, a test for blood sugar, from 14 to 6.2 in just eight months. A normal A1C is between 4 and 5.6.

"In the midst of all this bad news, somebody has to speak life into what is possible," said Jared Arnett, executive director of Shaping Our Appalachian Region, a bipartisan effort to revitalize and diversify Eastern Kentucky's economy.

Arnett said technology can open doors for new economic opportunities, expand entrepreneurship, provide access to health-care specialists through telemedicine, and offer more opportunities for education and workforce training.

Other ideas to improve the workforce included creating multi-sector partnerships, involving community members in decision making, taking advantage of the region's high rate of social associations, including health considerations in all government policies, and better coordinating local educational systems with the region's workforce needs.

Friday, September 01, 2017

NPS review of Smokies fire: No negligence, poor radios, unprecedented conditions, 'a new normal'

Photo from social media shows mountain on fire behind Sky Lift and Gatlinburg Inn
The National Park Service "found no evidence of human negligence in the November 2016 fire that burned more than 11,000 acres in Tennessee's Great Smoky Mountains National Park and caused 14 deaths in the Gatlinburg area," Rob Hotakainen reports for Environment & Energy News.

An NPS review team "said officials [at the park] weren't ready to respond to last year's wildfire because a combination of a record-setting drought and hurricane-force winds led to conditions they had never seen here," and warned residents that they should get accustomed to a "new normal," Jeff Farrell reports for The Mountain Press in Sevierville.

"No longer will folks living near the Great Smoky Mountains National Park have assurances they live near a temperate rain forest practically immune to large forest fires," Don Jacobs reports for the Knoxville News Sentinel, paraphrasing Joe Stutler, who led the review team.

Stutler, a senior adviser for Deschutes County, Oregon, "said yesterday the disaster was caused by a 'perfect storm' of fire, wind and drought that hit the Southeast last year," Hotakainen reports. Stutler told reporters in a conference call, "They had no experience with this kind of fire, and they simply did the best they could with that experience level."

However, Stutler said the probe exposed "preparedness and planning weaknesses," including poor radio communications with with local fire officials. Park Supt. Cassius Cash "said the review team's report . . . will be used to strengthen the park's response to other disasters and storms in the future," including radio upgrades, Hotakainen reports.

That will be needed, the report indicates. Farrell quotes from it: "To be sure, these same conditions are likely to align again in the future to allow for a large-scale wildfire that leaves the park and burns into (Gatlinburg and Sevier County)."

The fire burned from Nov. 23 through Nov. 28 "before moving beyond the park's boundaries and merging with other fires in Sevier County, Hotakainen notes. Two teenage boys were charged with arson, but the charges were dismissed for lack of evidence. They could still face federal charges.

Printed newspapers debunk predictions of demise

David Chavern
Print remains the primary focus of most U.S. newspapers, partly because the vast majority of them are weeklies, mostly in rural areas. But daily newspapers are still doing well with print, debunking predictions of the medium's demise, writes David Chavern, president of the News Media Alliance, formerly the Newspaper Association of America, the main trade group for dailies.

"Last year, the estimated total U.S. daily newspaper circulation reached 35 million Americans for weekday delivery and 38 million for Sunday," Chavern writes. "It is an audience that not only believes in the importance of journalism, but also understands that print is a pretty good technology. It is readable in all sorts of ambient light, needs no batteries and is incredibly efficient at delivering a wide array of information. (I still contend that there is nothing yet online that is as efficient at key information delivery as a scan across a front page of a print newspaper.)"

Print is also a good advertising value, Chavern writes: "When you advertise in a print newspaper, it ends up in the hands of a trusting and vast audience, with 74 percent of readers trusting the print newspaper compared to the 49 percent who put their trust in Twitter. Online news articles are read for an average of 30 seconds—how much time do those flash-readers really spend looking and interacting with advertisements? Milliseconds? Compare that to print, which sits in readers hands for an average of 40 minutes, daily." Last year, most U.S. newspaper subscribers only read them in print.

Chaven concludes, "The bottom line is that the industry we represent is, first and foremost, in the news business – and the audience for our journalism is larger than it has ever been in history. We deliver news to people in every way they want to consume it. Some want digital, some want print and a whole bunch of people want both. No one should be too quick to tell audiences how they should consume their news – and we should all expect a large segment of our audience to enjoy the ease and efficiency of a print product for some time to come."

Trump officials make deep cuts to Obamacare ads and enrollment help; could hurt rural enrollment

The Trump administration has announced deep cuts to programs that help people learn about and sign up for health insurance under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Department of Health and Human Services officials told reporters that "advertising will be cut to $10 million for the 2018 open enrollment season. That's down from $100 million for the 2017 sign-up season. Funding for consumer helpers called 'navigators' will also be cut, from $62.5 million for 2017, to about $36 million for next year," Bertha Coombs reports for CNBC. Navigators are ordinary citizens who have been trained to help people figure out the sometimes complicated ins and outs of signing up for an Obamacare plan.

The move could cause a big drop in enrollment. Washington & Lee University law professor Tim Jost told Sarah Kliff of Vox, "The surest way to kill the exchanges is to keep them a secret. Sick people will find them, but getting younger and healthier people enrolled is the problem."

"Andy Slavitt, former Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services administrator under the Obama administration, said that the Trump administration's decision to cut funding for navigators will hit hardest in poor, rural communities where insurers may not fill in the gap on outreach," Coombs reports. Slavitt says he believes the administration made the cuts out of a desire to weaken the program. "These aren't budget decisions … these are all funds that come out of user fees paid by the insurance companies. This wouldn't cost the federal government a nickel," he told Coombs.

Enrollment for 2018 begins Nov. 1 and runs through Dec. 15, a period that the Trump administration made half as long as it was under the Obama administration.

Budget could cut white-nose syndrome research

Bat with white-nose syndrome (New York Dept. of Environmental Conservation photo)
The fight to eradicate white-nose syndrome in bats may suffer a setback if proposed federal budget cuts become a reality. Scientists estimate that more than 6 million U.S. bats died from the syndrome between 2006 and 2012, and many more have died since then, Michael Doyle reports for Environment & Energy News. Bats occupy an important place in the ecosystem, as predators of mosquitoes and insects that harm crops, so scientists are scrambling to find a way to combat the disease. One way the federal government has done that is by awarding grants to promising research into methods of killing the disease without killing the bats, as well as to scientists doing general research on bats.

The latest round of Fish and Wildlife Service grant funding came from the agency's "Science Support" fund, which the Trump administration has proposed eliminating in the Interior Department's 2018 budget, Doyle reports. FWS distributed more than $1 million in bat-related research grants last month to scientists in 37 states and the District of Columbia. Research is also conducted by the wildlife program of the U.S. Geological Survey, but the administration is proposing a 22 percent cut in that fund for next year. The USGS has contributed valuable information to the battle against white-nose syndrome; several weeks ago its researchers found that the fungus that causes it can spread in warm as well as cool weather. The administration is proposing an 11 percent cut in funding for the National Science Foundation, which funds research grants on white-nose syndrome. An NSF summary says University of Georgia researchers are using "computational tools from mathematics, computer science, epidemiology and ecology to understand and predict the spread of [the] devastating disease," Doyle reports.

Congress has ignored some of President Trump's previous attempts to cut science funding, but the affected government agencies aren't taking any chances. In response to the threat of reduced or eliminated funding, some of the agencies are pooling research funds with each other and seeking contributions from private entities. The Bats for the Future Fund was established and mostly funded by FWS and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, but has also received funding from the U.S. Forest Service and Shell Oil Co. Research project funding is to be announced Sept. 22.

Civitas sells last two Kentucky newspapers to Boone-Carpenter, which now has 75 papers

Civitas Media of Davidson, N.C., continues to shed newspapers, completing its exit from Kentucky by selling the dailies in Harlan and Middlesboro, in the state's southeast corner. The buyers are new limited-liability companies owned by Carpenter Newsmedia of Natchez, Miss., and managed by Boone Newspapers of Tuscaloosa, Ala.

Bill Sharp will remain publisher of the two papers, and of The Claiborne Progress, a weekly in Tazewell, Tenn., near Middlesboro, that was also part of the sale. “I am very excited about this transition and I look forward to a great future with people who care about community news and the local newspaper,” said Sharp, whose newspaper career began as an Progress advertising salesman. The Harlan paper, in a county suffering from the decline of the Central Appalachian coal industry, recently reduced its publication frequency to four days a week.

The buyers entered Kentucky two years ago with their purchase of The State Journal in the state capital of Frankfort and the four Central Kentucky papers that were owned by Schurz Communications of Misawaka, Ind. "BNI owns and manages 75 newspapers in similar-sized communities that, in addition to those in which CNL has ownership interest, are in Minnesota, Michigan and Ohio," they said.

Rural papers, Nevada Independent to share news

The Nevada Independent, which says it aims to "change the face of journalism in Nevada and establish new paradigms for nonprofit, community-supported news organizations," says it has agreed with several rural newspapers to share content at no charge.

"We want to be a statewide news organization, and we have not forgotten about the 15 counties between the two urban areas. In fact, we will be sending a couple of reporters on a trip through rural Nevada very soon," writes leading Nevada political reporter and commentator Jon Ralston, who founded the site.

The main agreement is with Battle Born Media, "which includes Mesquite Local News, The Ely Times, The Eureka Sentinel, The Lincoln County Record, The Mineral County Independent-News, and The Sparks Tribune," Ralston reports.

"We are proud to have our content published in these fine news organizations and glad that they see value in what we are doing," Ralston writes. "We are also very happy to provide rural readers with direct access to our content, and we hope they will click through to TheIndy to read our other content. We also welcome op-eds from rural readers, and we hope readers there will provide us with story ideas and tips, too."

Al Cross, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, publisher of The Rural Blog, saluted the partnership. "We believe that most readers of rural newspapers don't read a newspaper daily, or a daily newspaper, period," he said. "We think rural papers should remember that their readers are also citizens of the state and nation, and need better information that they are likely to get from television, and certainly from social media."

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Harvey moves on, putting in dire need a large rural population that's much more difficult to reach

Weather Channel image
"As Houston, the urban behemoth that has so far been the focal point in the unfolding drama of Hurricane Harvey, began gingerly to assess the devastation, the storm marched on to conquer a vast new swath speckled with small towns that are home to millions of people who were shocked anew by Harvey’s tenaciously destructive power. Officials faced a population in dire need, but far more difficult to reach."

So report Campbell Robertson, Shalia Dewan and Rick Rojas of The New York Times, datelining the story from Newton, La., where the sheriff's office told Kristen Rogers that for the town's streets to flood, the event "would have to be Biblical," she recalled. "That's what they said about Houston." The Times reports, "In contrast to Houston, where the weather began to clear and a few children even returned to playgrounds, many people in these remote areas are still in desperate need of rescue. . . . Rural residents insisted that they were used to being far from outside help and that self-reliance and an ethos of neighbors helping neighbors came with the territory."

“The geographic scope of this event is probably what is going to make it one of the most costly flood disasters in U.S. history,” Samuel Brody, the director of the Center for Texas Beaches and Shores at Texas A&M University’s Galveston campus, told the Times. “I’ve seen heavy rain, I’ve seen 30, 40 inches, but not over such a large geographic area, impacting rich, poor, black, white, you name it.”

"This flood event is on an entirely different scale than what we’ve seen before in the United States," writes Jason Samenow of The Washington Post. "A new analysis from the University of Wisconsin’s Space Science and Engineering Center has determined that Harvey is a 1-in-1,000-year flood event that has overwhelmed an enormous section of Southeast Texas equivalent in size to New Jersey."

As some liberals forsake rural America, one in Va. offers a platform that challenges orthodoxy

Anthony Flaccavento has a rural platform.
(Photo by Justin Fleenor via Roanoke Times)
Some liberals have come to hate Appalachia because its recent votes don't match their values, raising a fascinating debate "over what a liberal agenda for rural America might look like," The Roanoke Times said in the first of a pair of editorials on the topic this week.

The paper ran excerpts of a discussion on the liberal site Daily Kos, where several posters argued that Appalachia no longer deserved taxpayer assistance. One wrote, "Why bankrupt the government to benefit folks who will never, ever agree with your policies? I have no ‘collective experiences’ with these people. I don’t believe in coal, guns, religion or just about anything else these people believe in. That’s the basic problem. We are two very different countries and only one can survive. None of that is an excuse for knowingly voting for a racist, bigoted, lying, ignorant buffoon for president."

The editorial said, "If there were a conservative website somewhere that was discussing whether conservatives should help, say, inner cities, and the responses were similar to the ones above, we’d have a very ugly word for that, now wouldn’t we? So why are some liberals — again, the key word there is ‘some’ — so vicious against rural areas? Why aren’t they being called out for their prejudices?"

The Times acknowledged that the quoted excerpts "are coming from the far left wing, not mainstream, establishment liberalism. Still, they are instructive; conservatives would say quite revealing. These viewpoints also aren’t confined simply to Internet trolls. They’ve shown up in various ways in such well-known publications as New York magazine and The New Republic. In one much-quoted article headlined “No Sympathy For The Hillbilly,” writer Frank Rich urged Democrats to simply ignore rural voters because they — we — are essentially irredeemable bigots who are too stupid to appreciate any government help."

A possible liberal agenda for rural voters comes from Anthony Flaccavento, a Southwest Virginia farmer, 2012 congressional candidate and consultant on rural economies, who has written national magazine articles in the topic. The second editorial says his rural platform on the site Rural Progressive Politics "challenges Democratic orthodoxy in some surprising ways. National Democrats are big on regulating banks; the Rural Progressive Platform urges 'regulatory relief for community banks' on the grounds that they’re the ones most likely to be serving rural communities." It also calls for “environmental regulations that are ‘scale appropriate’, i.e., less burdensome on small to mid-sized farms, businesses and manufacturers.”

"The most provocative passage in the platform," the Times says, "hints that maybe Democrats shouldn’t adopt one particular litmus test that usually fells their candidates in rural areas: 'Mountains, forests, valleys and streams are a practical part of our lives and economies. No doubt this is at least part of why we look at a chainsaw or a rifle so differently from most city folks.'"

Medicaid will pay for mental-health treatment at institutions, once states adapt to the change

In response to the opioid epidemic, the Medicaid program has begun paying for treatment at institutions for mental disease, "which include most residential treatment facilities for mental-health and substance-use disorders with more than 16 beds," but states have been slow to adopt the change, Virgil Dickson reports for Modern Healthcare.

The change lets Medicaid managed-care plans pay IMDs for 15 or fewer days of treatment in a month. "Only seven of the 39 states with managed-care Medicaid programs have started paying IMDs for those stays, according to email responses to a Modern Healthcare inquiry from state Medicaid agencies," Dickson reports. "Those states are Florida, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Rhode Island, Tennessee and Wisconsin. . . . States that haven't started paying for Medicaid beneficiaries' IMD stays say they are still trying to figure out how to develop rates for the facilities or have pending waivers with the CMS to pay for more than 15 days of care."

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services "estimates that 7.1 percent of adults ages 21 to 64 meet the criteria for serious mental illness that requires at least some inpatient treatment, and that 13.8 percent experience serious substance abuse disorders," Dickson notes. Mental-health and substance-abuse treatment is typically in short supply in rural areas.

In West Virginia, the Charleston Area Medical Center "has to ask a local court to conduct mental-hygiene hearings that Medicaid patients need in order for the state to approve their transfer to a free-standing psychiatric hospital that can provide them better care for their severe mental-health or substance-abuse issues," Dickson reports. "In the meantime, those patients are spending hours or days in ... emergency departments, unable to get the level of care they need. Unlike general acute-care hospitals, free-standing psychiatric facilities have staff that specialize in a gamut of mental illnesses."

West Virginia officials have balked at a provision "that asked them to take back any reimbursement paid out by a managed-care plan for treatment that surpassed the 15-day limit," saying it posed "serious operational challenges." The state is seeking a waiver to let it pay for 30 days' treatment. "Other managed-care states such as California and Maryland say their plans are not paying for the services because behavioral health is carved out of managed-care contracts, and they are only offered on a fee-for-service basis," Dickson reports.

Intense drought puts most of Montana at high risk for fires; conditions are better for much of country

National Interagency Fire Center map
Almost all of Montana remains abnormally dry, putting the state at the highest risk for wildland fires, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor published by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

"And conditions aren't expected to improve in September, either for the drought or for the wildfire danger," Sherry Devlin writes for the Missoula Current, a digital news magazine. "Over the past month, 'severe,' 'extreme' and 'exceptional' drought conditions marched westward across Montana, while much of the rest of the nation saw improvements or even above-normal precipitation."

Two-thirds of Montana's pastures and ranges was in "poor to very poor conditions," Devlin reports. As a result, livestock farmers have been selling herds early.

An estimated 97 percent of Montana has "abnormally dry" or "exceptional drought" conditions, but nationwide, only 25 percent of land falls in those categories. 

The September outlook for significant wildland fire potential also puts portions of North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Idaho, Nevada and California at above normal risk. The rest of the country is classified at normal or below normal risk.

All of Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia and Virginia, along with large portions of North Carolina, Missouri and Arkansas, have below normal risk for fires in September.

"Areas with the greatest potential for significant large fire activity will be the grasses and range lands of the Pacific Northwest east of the Cascades, the lower and middle elevations across California, and most of the North Rockies region," the National Interagency Fire Center reported.

Protect Your Groundwater Day, Sept. 5, focuses on capping and plugging wells to prevent pollution

Nearly 40 million Americans rely on drinking water from privately owned wells, and maintaining them correctly is important for health and environmental reasons. That's why the National Ground Water Association has chosen the theme "Cap It, Plug It" for the annual Protect Your Groundwater Day on Sept. 5. That is, capping active wells and plugging abandoned wells and boreholes. This is especially important in areas of oil and gas production; some unscrupulous operators don't plug abandoned wells or even pull the casing pipe, exposing many rock strata to contamination.

"If an active water well is not properly capped—or if an abandoned well is not properly plugged—it can create a direct pathway for contamination in the same groundwater you and others use for their drinking water supply," says the NGWA website. Protect Your Groundwater Day is important to more than just private well owners, NGWA says, since there are likely millions of abandoned boreholes nationwide. "It is not uncommon for children, pets, and wild animals to fall into these hidden hazards, which also can damage farm equipment that may roll over a hidden well or borehole."

Visit the NGWA website for more information or infographics.

Magazine dubs Berea College best U.S. liberal arts school; serves low-income Appalachian students

Berea, Ky. (Sperling's Best Places map)
Washington Monthly has named small-town Kentucky's Berea College the top liberal arts college in the country for the second year in a row. Unlike other college ranking systems, the Monthly "judges schools on how well they serve low-income and first-generation college students, the kinds of jobs graduates get, and how much public service they perform," Linda Blackford reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader. "Berea wins in two categories: best liberal arts college in the nation and best 'bang for the buck' college in the South."

It's easy to see why Berea is considered a good value: It doesn't charge tuition. That's crucial to its goal of educating low-income rural Appalachian students, who make up 80 to 90 percent of the student body. Nearly half of Berea graduates pursue advanced degrees, and half work in service-related occupations, President Lyle Roelofs told Blackford. To help cut costs and build character, "All students work at least 10 hours per week in campus and service jobs in more than 130 departments," according to the college website. Student jobs can be anything from janitorial work to loom-weaving to canning vegetables.

The city of Berea lies in the knobby hills at the southeast corner of the Bluegrass region, at the base of the Cumberland Plateau to the east and the Pennyroyal Plateau to the south. Its population has grown to 14,000, but its character remains fundamentally ruraland more progressive than most small towns. Founded in 1855 as the first interracial and co-ed college in the South, today Berea encourages students to embrace "plain living" and choose sustainable practices in their lives and professions.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Study finds Appalachia not only trails the country in health, but continues to fall further behind

The Appalachian Regional Commission released a report in August that provides a comprehensive look at health in the region, the ARC version of which has 420 counties in 13 states. Health Disparities in Appalachia is the first report in a series, and it's off to a grim start: Even in areas where health has improved, Appalachia is still behind the rest of the country, and continues to fall further behind.

Specifically, death rates from heart disease, cancer and stroke have decreased in both Appalachia and the U.S. overall, as has infant mortality. More primary care doctors are available, education levels are up, and death rates are down. But though Appalachia has improved in those areas, it's improved less than the country as a whole. Poverty is the only measure that increased in both Appalachia and the U.S. overall.

Deaths by injury are 33 percent higher in Appalachia than in the rest of the country, probably because that category includes drug overdoses. Appalachia and many other rural areas struggle with the opioid epidemic. Deaths by suicide are 17 percent higher than national rates as well. But Appalachia also has 33 percent more social associations than the country as a whole. Social associations include entities such as churches. Those may help improve health outcomes in Appalachia. "Greater levels of social relationships and interaction positively affect a number of outcomes, included those associated with both mental and physical health," the report says.

ARC partnered with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky to produce the report. The region's worst statistics are found in Central Appalachia, which is dominated by Eastern Kentucky.

Farmers join push for better rural broadband

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue met with U.S. Rep. Sean
Duffy and Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin after a Rural
Prosperity Forum in Wausau this month. (Photo from Twitter)
Keith Good with Farm Policy News has written an omnibus piece that provides a comprehensive look at the state of rural broadband expansion. Rural broadband access is often lousy, and rural communities need better service to attract businesses, but Good and Sari Lesk of USA Today have a new angle: Farmers want better broadband, too, to better conduct business and monitor crops. "Local farmers, students and broadband industry leaders asked federal officials to boost rural access to quality broadband in a local listening session with the federal agriculture secretary," Lesk reports, on a meeting this month.

The biennial Farm Computer Usage and Ownership Report from the National Agricultural Statistics Service this month added mobile and fiber-optic as forms of internet access farmers could select in surveys. Eight percent said they use fiber-optic and 17 percent said they used mobile. But Digital Subscriber Line was still the most common method, with 29 percent saying they access the internet through that relatively slow method. The survey also began asking farmers if they used a smartphone or tablet for farm business, and 39 percent said they did. Overall, the survey found that 71 percent of farms in the U.S. have internet access, a rate that's higher on farms in the West.
Internet subscription rate by county; click map to enlarge (Wall Street Journal graphic)
Some in Congress and the administration are working to improve rural access. On Aug. 3, federal regulators revamped two subsidy programs that hadn't proved effective in spurring rural broadband expansion, John McKinnon reports for The Wall Street Journal. The article said the Trump administration may address the digital divide in its upcoming infrastructure proposal. Last week Sens. Shelley Capito (R-W.Va.) and Agriculture Committee member Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) introduced a bill to provide grants for broadband in high-need rural areas, Good reports.

Nationwide teacher shortage hits poor, rural areas hardest; here's an extreme example

McDowell County (Wikipedia)
The nation is facing a growing teacher shortage, and schools in poor, rural areas are being hit hardest. One extreme example is McDowell County, West Virginia, where teachers quit often and substitute teachers may have no specialized knowledge of the subject they're being asked to teach. "Close to one in five teaching positions were filled by substitute or uncertified teachers in the 2016-17 school year, a high percentage for any school district," Emily Hanford reports for American Public Media. The schools had such a hard time finding foreign-language teachers that students now simply take such classes online. Science, special education and math positions are also difficult to fill.

The teacher shortage is likely to get worse, since fewer teachers are entering the profession. "A report by the Learning Policy Institute found that enrollment in teacher preparation programs fell 35 percent between 2009 and 2014, a decrease of close to 240,000 potential teachers," Hanford notes.

Rural places like McDowell County are often the first to feel the shortage. Coal mining jobs have largely dried up, the citizens are caught up in the opioid epidemic that's sweeping the country, and it's hard to entice teachers to move there. "Only 17 percent of students in McDowell County score proficient on state math tests, compared to 30 percent statewide. Only 8 percent are considered 'college ready' in English, math, social studies and science based on their ACT scores," Hanford reports. The teacher shortage isn't the entire cause of those figures, but it's hard to argue it's unrelated.

One problem is that there are few potential employers for a teacher's spouse, making it less attractive for a family to move there. Another problem is that most teachers like to teach where they grew up, but students Hanford interviewed say they will probably have to leave McDowell County when they grow up. Some already are. The population is declining as families move elsewhere, so the school system has been obliged to lay off teachers it can ill-afford to lose, partly because of West Virginia's last-hired, first-fired rules. School districts can pay teachers out of local funds, but that's not an option for poor counties like McDowell.
Teachers Village is a housing development for teachers. (Photo by Emily Hanford)
The Learning Policy Institute recently recommended some ways to improve the teacher shortage, including increasing salaries and providing housing. McDowell officials want to increase teacher pay, but need permission from the state legislature to do it. Legislators passed a law in 2017 that allows counties to attract educators for "critical need and shortage" positions with a one-time financial incentive. The problem for McDowell is that that incentive has to be paid for with local funds, which it doesn't have. County officials are working on the housing problem with a housing development especially for teachers.

Inside a small Texas daily that covered Harvey and kept helping community even after losing power

All journalists work hard for stories, but keeping the coverage current during a natural disaster requires a special kind of guts. Newsrooms in southeast Texas are rising to the challenge, including The Victoria Advocate. Located about two hours southwest of Houston, the Advocate is a locally owned daily that covers seven rural Texas counties with a staff of 35. Founded in 1846, it's the state's second oldest newspaper, so the staff knows a thing or two about staying power. And last Friday morning, they showed up to stay for a while.

Kristen Hare of The Poynter Institute reports that staffers brought non-perishable food, air mattresses, clothes, and even pets to the newsroom, expecting they wouldn't be able to leave for a while after the storm hit later that day. The newspaper had no power from Friday night through Sunday, and no water from Friday night through Monday. It had three backup generators to power laptop computers during the weekend, but wasn't able to print until Tuesday night. "Instead, the newsroom has focused on publishing breaking news and resources for the community, reporting on Facebook Live and telling the stories of residents," Hare reports from her telephone interview. "Those stories show up online and are woven together for the front page of the e-edition." Today, the paper announced that it plans to resume "limited home delivery" tomorrow.
Partial screen grab of the Victoria Advocate's home page
As of yesterday, 11 staffers were still sleeping at the office. Luckily, a restaurant on the building's first floor has been feeding newspaper staffers and others in the community. The Advocate is doing its part to help the community, not just through keeping people updated on the storm and cleanup, but by serving as an information resource for callers. "People have been calling the newsroom from outside Victoria and asking for help figuring out the best directions to reach loved ones in town. A few staffers are dedicated to figuring out the best routes," Hare reports. Copy desk chief J.R. Ortega says the newsroom is embracing that role. "We will help them get to where they need to go," he told Hare. "As a community paper, we feel like we need to keep them safe."

UPDATE, Sept. 11: Ken Esten Cooke, editor of the Fredericksburg Standard, salutes the Advocate and other newspapers that kept going through Harvey, performing "sacrificial deeds from a group of people that are maligned sometimes even as 'enemies of the American people.' Those people are us. Those journalists live in those communities, pay taxes, struggle with their own family issues and still show up to pitch in when disaster strikes. Journalists, by nature, are horrible at trumpeting their own good deeds. All these I have mentioned will boast about their friends in the bass boats, but may not publish much about themselves."

Town at epicenter of solar-eclipse buzz hopes its welcoming efforts stoke pride and optimism

The lights on Hopkinsville's Alhambra Theatre were
restored for the eclipse. (Photo by Jennifer P. Brown)
We've covered how Hopkinsville, Ky., amplified and prepared for the international attention brought by its proximity to the point of greatest eclipse on Aug. 21. The city's rationale was that the rare event would bring in huge profits to the town and raise awareness about it as a destination for future tourists. Now that the eclipse is over, former Hopkinsville newspaper editor Jennifer P. Brown digs into whether the efforts paid off, in a piece for The Daily Yonder. It speaks to the larger question of how small towns can use rare or one-time events as a springboard for economic development. Some small towns were unwilling or unable commit resources to welcoming visitors.

Hopkinsville prepared exhaustively for the eclipse. It started working on it 10 years ago and hired a full-time eclipse coordinator in September 2016. The town of 32,000 improved roads, spruced up, and planned a three-day festival to welcome visitors from all over the world. As estimates for the crowds surpassed 100,000, "The city took reservations for camping spots and one-day viewing sites at several parks. Two whiskey distilleries in the county rented out space for overnighters and promoted big plans to celebrate with spirits, musical entertainment and food trucks," Brown writes.

So how did it pan out? Mayor Carter Hendricks told Brown that the eclipse brought in about $30 million in spending and what early estimates say was a crowd of 150,000. Coffeehouse owner Amanda Huff-McClure told Brown that business was good on the Friday before the Monday eclipse, "amazing" on Saturday, and Sunday was "breakneck speed and great numbers." She thought Sunday was the most crowded the business could possibly be, but "then on Monday, we doubled that. Monday was insane for us. We got the last available parking space in the free public parking at 5:45 a.m. We had people banging on the glass wanting to know when we were going to open by about 6:15."

Will the eclipse bring future benefits? Interestingly, it's not the city's amenities but the people that might be the biggest attraction to visitors. Louisville Courier-Journal photographer Michael Clevenger wrote, "In the end you can plan for portable toilets and traffic flow and campgrounds for 200,000 of your closest friends. But you can’t buy helpfulness. You can rent hospitable. You can’t fake friendly. Hopkinsville figured out how to host the world but remembered the intangible things that make us uniquely Kentucky. And it showed. The sun and the moon may have stolen the show in Hopkinsville on August 21, but Hopkinsville stole my heart.”

Brown says that's where her hopes lie for the future of Hopkinsville beyond the eclipse. "If more entrepreneurs like Amanda and April see value in downtown, if more people want to spruce up and dig in, then I’ll believe this turn in Hopkinsville’s fortunes is real. I’ll believe it’s about much more than a solar eclipse."

Farm Foundation Forum and symposium in D.C. on Sept. 19 will discuss innovation in agriculture

Research and innovation in U.S. agriculture and the changes needed to be competitive on the global market will be discussed at the Farm Foundation Forum from 9 to 11 a.m. EDT on Sept. 19 at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. Farm Foundation President Constance Cullman will moderate. Forum participants will be Ken Ash, director of the Trade and Agriculture Directorate of the international Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development; Catherine Moreddu, senior economist at OECD; and Margaret Zeigler, executive director of the Global Harvest Initiative.

Invited responders are: Parag Chitnis, deputy director of the National Institute for Food and Agriculture, and Alan Leshner, CEO emeritus of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

The Farm Foundation website says, "Following the forum, Farm Foundation, OECD and USDA's Economic Research Service will convene a symposium, 'Research and Innovation Policies for Sustainable Productivity Growth in Agriculture.' Researchers, academics and government leaders from the U.S. and the European Union will examine the role of public policies to support research and innovation, and how to improve the capacity of those policies to deliver demand-driven results. Addressing capacity and the linkages of public-private partnerships are among the topics for the symposium, which will continue Sept. 20. Symposium details and registration are available." A free live audio stream of the forum will be available on the Farm Foundation website. Click here to register to attend the Forum in person; click here to participate in the live audiocast.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Farm Bill touches a lot more than farms; attend workshop, attend five-day SEJ conference free

The Society of Environmental Journalists is offering free travel fellowships and registration at its annual conference in Pittsburgh Oct. 4-8 for reporters who participate in its Farm Bill Workshop on the first day of the conference.

SEJ has a question and an answer: "What do you mean you don't cover the Farm Bill? Agriculture everywhere has a major impact on the environment. . . . In some way, the Farm Bill touches on almost everyone beyond farmers themselves. The Farm Bill spells out who gets food aid, both domestically and internationally. The Farm Bill sets aside the largest pot of federal money for conservation and stewardship on private lands in the country. Conservation programs take the carrot approach by offering incentives to farmers to use best practices on their ground. Is that money spent wisely? What are the measurable impacts? How does the farm bill tie into issues such as local water quality, algal blooms or hypoxic zones in coastal areas? What are the social justice implications of a bill that defines how poor you have to be to get food aid versus how wealthy you can be and still get farm subsidies? The farm bill workshop and tour is an exciting opportunity for you to take some ideas back to your editors and readers for exploring the nexus between farmers and the environment."

During the workshop, veteran reporters covering the Farm Bill explain its nuances and issues affecting different audiences: Chuck Abbott, a long-time Reuters reporter who now covers farm-policy issues for the Food and Environment Reporting Network; Ellyn Ferguson, agricultural reporter for CQ Roll Call; and moderator Chris Clayton, a veteran farm-policy editor for DTN/The Progressive Farmer. Representatives of environmental groups will explain their agendas. The workshop will include a tour of urban agricultural businesses and groups in the Pittsburgh area.

Space is limited. If interested, please contact SEJ Conference Director Jay Letto at The conference agenda is at

Despairing Democrats in rural Wash. county bucked history to vote for Trump; still awaiting action

Aberdeen, Wash., resident Forrest Wood shoots up. (AP Photo by David Goldman)
A story from The Associated Press shines a melancholy light on a rural corner of Washington state sometimes called "the Appalachia of the Pacific Northwest." Like the real Appalachia, the town of Aberdeen in Grays Harbor County has been plagued by poverty and ravaged by the opioid epidemic in recent years. And so the county, "once among the most reliably Democratic in the nation, swung Republican in a presidential election for the first time in 90 years," Claire Galofaro reports.

Aberdeen, Washington
(Sperling's Best Places map)
Donald Trump won handily in small towns and rural areas across the country, where residents saw him as a ray of hope — or a Hail Mary pass. "Penn State sociologist Shannon Monnat spent last fall plotting places on a map experiencing a rise in 'deaths of despair' — from drugs, alcohol and suicide wrought by the decimation of jobs that used to bring dignity," Galofaro reports. "On Election Day, she glanced up at the television. The map of Trump’s victory looked eerily similar to hers documenting death, from New England through the Rust Belt all the way here, to the rural coast of Washington, a county of 71,000 so out-of-the-way some say it feels like the end of the earth."

Aberdeen, hometown of Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain, was once a lumber boomtown, but the economy began slipping in the 1960s because of globalization and automation. In 1990 the federal government limited logging to protect an endangered owl. Today, "the county’s population is stagnating and aging, as many young and able move away. Just 15 percent of those left behind have college degrees. A quarter of children grow up poor. There is a critical shortage of doctors. All that gathered into what Karolyn Holden, director of the local health department, calls 'a perfect storm' that put Grays Harbor near the top of the lists no place wants to be on: drugs, alcohol, early death, runaway rates of welfare," Galofaro reports.

Some local residents Galofaro interviewed remain hopeful that Trump can fix the blue-collar economy. Antique-store owner Stacie Blodgett says she found Trump's bold words refreshing as a candidate, but says "What he needs to do is quit talking, and do what he said he's going to do."

Anthem's new limits on claims for imaging services, a profit center, could hurt rural hospitals

Imaging services can be much less
expensive at free-standing imaging
centers than at hospitals. Click on 
image to enlarge. (Amino graphic)
Health insurance giant Anthem Inc. says it will no longer pay for most privately insured outpatient MRIs and CT scans in hospitals unless a review finds it was medically necessary, Shelby Livingston reports for Modern Healthcare. Other insurance companies may follow if the market reacts favorably.

Anthem says the change will not affect anyone relying on Medicare, Medicaid or self-funded employer coverage. Other patients will have to go to a free-standing imaging center, where imaging services can cost half as much as in hospitals. Hospitals charge more for imaging to cover significant overhead costs.

The policy could hurt rural hospitals that are already struggling to stay open. It may cause problems for rural residents too, since they may not have easy access to free-standing imaging centers.

Anthem has tried to protect and increase profits by withdrawing from some states; this appears to be the next step in cutting costs and marks the "beginning of the next wave of tension" between payers and hospitals, says health-care industry consultant Paul Keckley.

Hospitals don't much like the new policy, for reasons beyond the loss of profit. Brian Tabor, president of the Indiana Hospital Association, told Livingston the policy will force doctors to spend more time "fighting for reimbursement" and going through lengthy appeals processes for patients who had imaging done in the hospital. That could cause hospitals to have to spend more money on staff. Scott Wallace, an associate professor at the University of Texas' Dell Medical School and managing director of the school's Value Institute for Health and Care, says the policy will increase bureaucracy and make care coordination more difficult.

While patients could possibly endure delays in care, "in general this is going to be a benefit for patients, assuming they have a place to go," says Lea Malin, senior consultant of research with the healthcare research outfit The Advisory Board Co.

"The policy went into effect in Indiana, Kentucky, Missouri and Wisconsin on July 1, and it will start in Colorado, Georgia, Nevada, New York and Ohio on Sept. 1," Livingtston reports. By March 2018, Anthem will roll out the new policy to all 14 of the states it serves, except for New Hampshire. An Anthem spokesperson said the new policy will affect 4.5 million people.

Harvey is drowning cattle in Texas, #1 cattle state; Victoria paper sees need for aid in rural areas

Cattle stranded in a flooded pasture near La Grange, Texas, on Aug. 28. (CNN photo)
UPDATE, Aug. 30: has a photo gallery of Texas livestock in dire straits.
Losses of cattle are likely from Hurricane Harvey because farmers in southeast Texas didn't anticipate "the sheer breadth of the storm," Tony Dreibus reports for "A lot of these guys have dealt with high water but nothing like this," Texas A&M extension specialist Tom "Andy" Vestal told Dreibus. "Who could’ve imagined 40 to 44 inches of rainfall?”

"The number of cattle deaths has yet to be determined and still may be rising, but it’s likely going to be high as the National Weather Service forecast more than 50 inches of rain in some areas," Dreibus writes. "About 1.2 million beef cows are in the 54 counties that have been declared disaster areas, and that USDA estimate is conservative estimate, A&M livestock economist David Anderson told Dreibus, who notes, "Texas is the biggest cattle and calf producer in the U.S. and has the largest feedlot herd at 2.42 million head, according to the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association."

Dennis DeLaughter, a market analyst who farms near Edna, 50 miles from the center of the storm at its strongest, said ranchers can only do so much. “All you can do is open the gates and hope the cattle are smart enough to seek higher ground,” he said. “You can’t round up all the cattle, so there will definitely be losses.”

Dreibus reports, "The Texas Animal Health Commission plans to deploy its Horseback Emergency Response Team, a group of volunteers who ride their own horses into affected areas when it’s safe to wrangle cattle, locate dead livestock, and gather video documenting the devastation, said Thomas Swafford, a spokesman for the TAHC."

Meanwhile, the editorial board of the Victoria Advocate , which has been prevented from printing, notes online the devastation all over Victoria County, and rural residents' reports that they are getting no assistance. "Federal and state help is needed throughout the Crossroads to recover from this disaster," the paper says. "And as the help arrives, relief workers need to make sure they reach every corner of the region."

Rural Virginia hospital, closed since 2013, sold to a start-up firm with little experience

Sperling's Best Places map
The governing board of shuttered Lee County Hospital in Pennington Gap, Virginia, has voted to sell it to a Florida-based start-up, "rejecting an offer by a regional provider that planned to immediately provide urgent care," Luanne Rife reports for The Roanoke Times. Americore Health did not provide financial statements, show the source of its income, or offer a detailed business plan, but manages the hospital in nearby Pineville, Ky., and reports are mixed about how well it's doing there.

It's the latest chapter in a turbulent history for the Lee hospital, which closed almost four years ago. Wellmont Health System purchased it in 2007 as a package deal with Mountain View Regional Medical Center in Norton, Va., pitting itself against "Mountain States Health Alliance and its Norton Community Hospital," Rife reported at the time. Wellmont didn't really want Lee County, and some claim the hospital was poorly run on purpose in order to shore up Wellmont's bottom line so it would look more attractive to potential merger partners. Wellmont closed the hospital with little warning in October 2013, leaving 25,000 people without a nearby hospital. A state legislator pushed through a law to let local leaders create a governing board for the hospital and buy it from Wellmont. After an outcry from Pennington Gap citizens, Wellmont agreed to the $1.6 million sale, financed by a loan from the county government.

The governing board planned as recently as 2015 to hire Mountain States, Wellmont's rival, to provide services. But the board voted 5-3 on Aug. 24 to sell the hospital to Americore for $2 million, "with the expectation that Americore will pursue opening a critical-access care hospital along with implementing its business plan to run enhanced laboratory services and provide behavioral health care," Rife reports. The two dissenting board members said they wanted to pursue a proposal from Mountain States that would have "immediately provided urgent care, followed by a full service emergency department, and a feasibility study to determine whether a critical access hospital is financially sustainable."

UPDATE, Sept. 20: Tennessee regulators have approved a merger of Wellmont and Mountain States, but Virginia has yet to approve it and the Federal Trade Commission objects to the process, Rife reports.

Monday, August 28, 2017

People in rural Nebraska (and probably other states) choose supermarkets over local groceries

Almost half of rural Nebraskans prefer to buy their groceries at supermarkets or big-box stores instead of local grocery stores, even in communities so small they don't have a supermarket, according to the 2017 Nebraska Rural Poll reported by Becky Vogt of the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

There's little if any reason to believe that a similar trend is not playing out in rural areas all over the country, and could be problematic for small town economies. "This trend can be contributing to the decline of smaller towns. I don't know that we always think about the impact we are having on our local economies," says Vanessa Wielenga, Nebraska's assistant extension educator for food access and availability.

The poll also showed that rural Nebraskans liked the quality and selection they get from out-of-town supermarkets, and that's more of a priority to them than finding a store closer to home. It's not all bad news for rural food providers, though: 44 percent of those surveyed said they buy food from a farmers' market or community-supported agriculture, in which consumers sign up for regular deliveries from local farmers.

Rural area with low internet access dropped from census test involving use of digital advertising

The U.S. Census Bureau announced plans last year to do a dry run of the 2020 census by polling three very different communities: Providence, Rhode Island; Pierce County, Washington; and a nine-county section of rural West Virginia. But now the bureau says it must drop West Virginia and Washington from the End-to-End Census Test because President Trump's proposed budget gave the agency $164 million less than what it says it will need for the testing, Emma Kromm reports for Facing South, a publication of the Institute for Southern Studies.

The nine-county area of West Virginia that was cut
from the test. (Census Bureau map; click to enlarge)
The drop could cause problems, because the census is trying to make sure that new polling methods will be successful in different demographic areas with varying levels of internet access. The testing will consist of updating residents' addresses by door-to-door canvassing as well as advertising, distributing and collecting a census questionnaire. Much advertising will be online, since that costs less than sending out a field worker or, often, taking out a newspaper ad. Rural areas often have spotty internet access, so a dry run will help determine if a digital media-heavy advertising campaign will work in rural areas. More than 31 percent of residents in the West Virginia census test area lack good residential broadband access.

"That could have broad implications for the South," writes Kromm. "While about 19 percent of the country's population is rural, the figure for Southern states is over 33 percent. At the same time, rural areas tend to be more economically depressed and dependent on federal aid. In fact, West Virginia receives the highest level of per capita federal funding at $2,755 per person — some of which is determined by census data."

Bill Gates and Cargill invest in lab-grown meat

Microsoft founder Bill Gates is teaming up with agricultural giant Cargill Inc. and other businesses to invest in a company that produces meat from animal cells grown in a laboratory.

"Memphis Meats, which produces beef, chicken and duck directly from animal cells without raising and slaughtering livestock or poultry, raised $17 million from investors including Cargill, Gates and billionaire Richard Branson, according to a statement on the San Francisco-based startup’s website. The fundraising round was led by venture-capital firm DFJ, which has previously backed several social-minded retail startups," Shruti Singh reports for Bloomberg. Memphis Meats has raised $22 million so far.
A petri dish of lab-grown beef from Memphis Meats (Newsweek photo)
The rise of Memphis Meats corresponds with increasing consumer demand for meat alternatives, especially from millennials. Some are interested in animal welfare, some are worried about potential health problems associated with meat consumption, and some are concerned that animal husbandry hurts the environment. Meat and poultry producers are paying attention, as evidenced by Perdue's recent commitment to treat its chickens more humanely. And another poultry giant, Tyson, created a venture-capital fund dedicated to investing in companies that help sustainably feed the growing world population. Tyson, along with Gates, also bought a stake in popular meat-alternative company Beyond Meat.

Sonya Roberts, president of growth ventures at Cargill, told Singh in an email, "We believe that consumers will continue to crave meat, and we aim to bring it to the table, as sustainably and cost-effectively as we can. Cultured meats and conventionally produced meats will both play a role in meeting that demand." Branson was bolder in a statement, saying that he thinks the slaughter of animals for meat will be unnecessary in about 30 years.

African Americans are an unsung part of Appalachia

African American coal miners in Lynch, Ky. (Photo by Lynch resident William Turner)
When someone is asked to imagine a person living in Appalachia, they'll likely imagine a white person. But the Appalachians have a significant African American population in certain places. The Washington Post's Emma Ockerman writes a fascinating piece about what it means to be an African American living in Appalachia, feeling "like a racial minority within a cultural minority." It's part of a Post series called About US on issues of identity in the United States.

Harlan County, Kentucky (Wikipedia)
Ockerman takes us to the coal-mining town of Lynch in Harlan County, Kentucky, where 200 of the 700 residents are African American. "If Lynch reflects the economic decline across the central Appalachian region, the outlook is worse for black Appalachians. There, black residents are twice as likely to lack a bachelor’s degree compared with their white peers. By a slimmer margin, they’re also more likely to experience poverty," Ockerman writes. But the black residents of Lynch say they love their hometown and want to be recognized and respected as both African Americans and Appalachians.

University of Kentucky professor and poet Frank X. Walker has a name for African Americans who live in coal country: "Affrilachian." He founded the Affrilachian Poets, which gives African American writers a space to talk about their identities at the intersection of race and geography. Affrilachian poet and West Virginia native Crystal Good told Ockerman that "It’s important now for the people of West Virginia to speak up and show the diversity of the region."

Rural manufacturing panel in D.C. Sept. 8: register to attend or watch

After a period of decline, rural manufacturing is on the rise again. It's now rural America's second-largest employment sector, with more than 3.5 million rural Americans – 14 percent of rural citizens – working in the industry. That's more rural people than work in retail, and is more than double what agriculture brings to the rural economy.

On Sept. 8 from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. EDT, in Washington, D.C., the Rural Development Innovation Group and the Aspen Institute Community Strategies Group will present a lunch panel highlighting how the savvy strategies of four rural and locally owned businesses and networks are making manufacturing work in America. The groups are both initiatives from the nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank The Aspen Institute.

The panel will be the fifth in a series of six in a series called America's Rural Opportunity. The series "invites policymakers, economic and community development practitioners, and business and philanthropic leaders to engage in real dialogue around advancing a rural opportunity agenda," according to the website. The panel will be moderated by Deb Markley, senior vice president for LOCUS Impact Investing and the co-director of the Center for Rural Entrepreneurship. The four businesses highlighted in the September panel are:
  • Incubating Pathogens – and Community Enterprise: Microbiologics, based in St. Cloud, Minn., produces 900 strains of ready-to-use microorganisms for quality control testing in industries such as pharmaceuticals and more. The guest speaker will be Brad Goskowicz, CEO of Microbiologics
  • Toboggans to the Local (and Global) Rescue: Cascade Rescue in the Idaho panhandle manufactures rescue toboggans used by ski areas around the world. Their approach to hiring and developing talent is a potential model for other rural manufacturers facing workforce challenges. The guest speaker will be Dana Jordan, president and CEO of Cascade Rescue Co.
  • From Threads to Fabric: New Trends in the Making: A unique collaboration is helping bring back textile manufacturing to western North Carolina. Guest speakers will be Molly Helmstreet, founder & general manager of Opportunity Threads, and Tanya Wade, intake administrator and project specialist at Carolina Textile District.
  • Perspective from the Rural Development Innovation Group: Guest speaker John Molinaro is the president and CEO of the Appalachian Partnership for Economic Growth, an organization that collaborates with officials in Ohio's 32 Appalachian counties to encourage economic development. For 20 years he was vice president of the West Central Initiative, a community development foundation in Minnesota that helped double manufacturing employment in rural areas of the state. 
Click here to attend the panel in person or watch it online.