During a brief but busy trip to Oregon Monday, January 28, Agriculture Under Secretary Dallas Tonsager highlighted opportunities to increase public-private collaboration and innovative financing models for rural community and economic development. That morning, Mr. Tonsager delivered the keynote address at the Harvesting Clean Energy conference in Corvallis. Later that day in Portland, Mr. Tonsager sat down with a diverse group of business, technology, education, agriculture, finance and state government representatives to stress the importance of inter-entity teamwork to achieve a common vision for a self-sustaining, prosperous rural America.
“Our mission is to help create jobs in rural America,” Mr. Tonsager explained. “We are looking for creativity, especially as it relates to putting capital together for rural areas so that we can extend our resources further in a thoughtful, sensible way.”
The Northwest partners and stakeholders at the table answered the Under Secretary’s call for creativity and presented a range of inventive strategies that involve:
- Supporting communities as they develop locally led, place-appropriate economic and community development goals
- Expanding rural infrastructure through the development of “bundles” to mitigate costs while encouraging new technologies and diversifying credit risk
- Leveraging the resources of non-traditional partners to develop non-cash incentives for addressing multiple pressing issues in rural areas
- Implementing innovative energy conservation measures in tandem with the commercialization of locally produced fuels to create jobs, meet local needs, and retain energy dollars in local economies
- Developing a skilled workforce of rural residents who have the opportunity and desire to stay in their communities and enhance local capacity
- Providing access to infrastructure, such as clean drinking water, public facilities, and broadband to help remote and low-income rural communities participate fully in the 21st Century economy
- Closing the gap between university research and the commercialization of technologies in rural communities
- Creating a collaborative investment platform that allows public, private and nonprofit funders to more effectively leverage funding for rural community and economic development projects
The discussion was part of an ongoing, nationwide dialog led by USDA Rural Development to shepherd in a new era of public-private collaboration and investment to create and maintain the conditions necessary for an economically thriving rural America. The talented people and partners working alongside USDA here in the Northwest will, undoubtedly, continue to generate exciting ideas and successful new models for development that will be shared and replicated across the country. We thank all of the local leaders, organizations, stakeholders and the many others who share in this important work!