Thursday, August 20, 2020

Local leaders talk about how smarter federal policy can help rural areas during pandemic

"The covid-19 pandemic is threatening to exacerbate the nation’s geographic divergence in community well-being and economic prosperity that has been widening since the Great Recession. Over one-quarter of U.S. counties had not yet recovered to pre-2008 levels before the pandemic hit, This is disproportionately true for rural America, whose diversity belies general perceptions and is attracting leaders such as Todd Wolford of Wytheville, Va, and Lindsey Dotson of Charlevoix, Mich., who direct rural economic development organizations and are eager to build rural institutions and places that thrive," Tracy Hadden Loh and Anthony Pipa write for the Brookings Institution. Pipa is a senior fellow in global economy and development at Brookings, and Loh is a fellow at the Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Center for Transformative Placemaking.

Loh and Pipa recently interviewed Wolford and Dotson via Zoom to discuss what the local leaders are doing to help their communities. Both said they're committed to supporting and growing small businesses, which make up the majority of jobs in their towns. Such jobs also make their communities unique and can attract outsiders, they said. "Yet their experiences demonstrate that federal policy for rural development is outdated and mismatched in helping rural leaders meet the demands and opportunities of the modern economy and the additional pressures wrought by covid-19," Loh and Pipa write.

Rural entrepreneurs face a host of barriers even without the pandemic: it's more difficult for them to access financing, and they tend to have inadequate broadband access, Dotson and Wolford said. Read more here.

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