Freezing temperatures, swirling winds and snow didn’t stop about 90 people from coming out and sharing their ideas with the USDA about how the agency can best create jobs and economic development in rural communities. The North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota offices of USDA Rural Development and the Farm Service Agency hosted a tri-state rural jobs and economic development forum on January 6 at the North Dakota State College of Science in Wahpeton.
Congressman Early Pomeroy of North Dakota attended the forum and provided opening remarks. “I want to hear people’s ideas on how public dollars can best be spent to increase job opportunities in our rural communities,” Pomeroy said. “Strategies need to be sharp, focused and effective.”
Healthcare, access to capital and innovation were three key issues that a six-person panel and audience members felt needed to be addressed in order to get the rural economy headed in the right direction.
Panel members consisted of representatives from the fields of renewable energy, banking, labor, healthcare, manufacturing and American Indian economic development. The audience was made up of a broad range of interests, including farmers, mayors, and economic developers.
“Our biggest challenge is healthcare,” said panel member John Riskey, a mayor and BCTGM union president. “Right now healthcare costs prevent businesses from hiring more employees and force them to work existing employees overtime because it’s cheaper than hiring more help.”
A lively discussion also centered on the issue of access to credit and capital in rural areas.
“We need to do things to enhance the incentives for existing businesses to expand,” said panel member Jan Lundebecht, president of First Security Bank in Benson, Minn. “They’ve proven that they can succeed and they’re the ones that will keep providing jobs in the long term.”
An audience member also suggested that Rural Development examine the possibility of adding a direct business and industry loan program to complement its existing guaranteed business and industry loan program. The audience member said the combination of direct and guaranteed financing works very well in the community facilities program and should be tried in the business and industry program.
Panel member DelRay German, TERO director for the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate, said that America needs to get back to doing what made it great in the first place: Innovate.
“If people have a little appetite for innovation, you need to whet it, you need to draw it out of them,” German said. “How can community leaders help people be more innovative again?”
A mayor in the audience also stressed the importance of focusing on research and development. He said the innovation and investment we seek to help turn around our economy won’t happen unless government, banks and organizations figure out ways to fund research and development efforts.
The tri-state forum was an excellent opportunity for the USDA to work regionally and bring a diverse group of people together to collect valuable feedback on the rural economy. North Dakota Rural Development state director Jasper Schneider considered the forum a success, but realizes that the hard work has just begun in helping the rural economy rebound.
“I want to thank everyone for braving the weather and participating,” Schneider said. “We heard a lot of good ideas and we’re going to be sharing each and every one with President Obama and the Administration. I hope we can continue to do similar forums in the future and hear directly from the people that use and benefit from the many USDA programs.”
Submitted by USDA Rural Development State Directors:
Jasper Schneider, North Dakota
Elsie Meeks, South Dakota
Colleen Landkamer, Minnesota
For a list of scheduled jobs meetings by state or to learn more, go to the Rural Development and FSA Job Roundtables Schedule, and the News Release, “USDA to Host Roundtables on Jobs, Economic Growth”.