In Charles City Iowa, USDA Officials Listen to Advice from Business Leaders at White House Roundtable Event
Access to capital, cutting edge technology and more responsive government programs will help drive rural innovation, according to participants at a White House Business Council roundtable in Charles City, Iowa yesterday. Facilitated by USDA Rural Utilities Service (RUS) Administrator Jonathan Adelstein, the forum drew a group of rural business leaders from around the region. They raised issues ranging from the length of time it takes to process passport and visa applications to new regulations on banks and financial institutions.
Adelstein, who is one of the Obama Administration’s leading advocates for rural broadband, heard an extensive discussion of the shortcomings of rural broadband in Charles City. At the same time, rural telephone cooperatives described their success working with RUS to improve their systems. Charles City Mayor Jim Erb told Adelstein there exists a “rural-rural” divide in which some communities receive exceptional broadband service while others do not. Adelstein said the Obama Administration is working to extend high speed broadband throughout rural America and that USDA programs may be able to help. The probability that economic development and job creation in rural areas will be driven by access to high speed broadband was stressed.
Iowa USDA Rural Development State Director Bill Menner said access to broadband has been a recurring theme at roundtables he has hosted across the state. This, he states, “underscores the importance of the issue.”
A group of local lenders voiced frustration with new regulations that they said are hampering their ability to make loans. One banker said he is hiring “compliance officers, not loan officers.”
An economic development leader said a new focus on entrepreneurship will help rural communities grow jobs from within, but government programs are needed to help support start-ups and early-stage companies. Adelstein said a variety of federal programs, both within USDA and elsewhere, are intended to support business development and that it remains a driving force behind the Administration’s rural development efforts.
Another issue raised dealt with long-term strategic planning for transportation investments. One local contractor complained that not enough attention is being given to the country’s roads and bridges. Adelstein expressed the Administration’s support for an effective transportation system, and added that the President is ready to ensure that the future needs of the country are accounted for.
The Charles City Roundtable was the latest in a series of discussions focused on opportunities to create jobs, expand innovation and build a more competitive rural economy.