Invest in Rural Community Livability

Build a Community-Based Rural Economy

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Invest in Rural Community Livability

People live in rural regions for lots of reasons, but for many, it is because they love the land and the rural quality of life. Rural areas offer tremendous benefits, including open space, natural beauty, recreational opportunities, and much more. However, decades of federal and state disinvestment in rural areas have created rural exodus, where people have left rural communities in order to move to cities and suburbs, which has led to further disinvestment.

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State lawmakers can interrupt this trend by investing in rural livability. This is a key moment to do so, in an ongoing pandemic and when conceptions about work and life are evolving, which has encouraged city residents to move to small towns and rural areas.

Rural residents, whether longtime, returning, or newcomer, need good jobs, viable public transportation, bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, healthy food, and safe communities in which to raise families. Policymakers can improve rural livability by investing in the transportation, food access, and recreation infrastructure that make rural areas good places to live and raise a family, while investing in jobs with economic multipliers that contribute rather than extract wealth from the community.

Policy Priorities

  1. Federal: Ensure that rural economic development and job training prioritizes rural jobs. Too often, economic development and job training programs prepare workers and entrepreneurs to leave rural communities rather than creating opportunities to stay and thrive. Development efforts must prioritize building strong rural communities.

  2. Federal: Create and fund “jobs of the future” and “industries of the future” apprenticeship programs. Job training and business development must envision the next generation of rural economies and focus on preparing and supporting the development of those industries, including information technology and new commodities like hemp. This focus on a just transition away from extractive industries to local wealth creation and good-paying jobs should be a critical part of rural economies.

  3. Federal: Reform existing tax credits for renewable energy. Provide fair treatment of rural electric cooperatives (RECs) under the direct payment option for renewable energy tax credits so that RECs receive the same vital option for direct payment that is afforded to every other type of utility in The Moving Forward Act passed by the House.

  4. State: Create Departments of Rural Prosperity that work to balance economic growth with rural livability and a clean environment.

  5. State: Increase access to and reliability of public transportation.

  6. State: Invest in public recreation and green spaces that promote rural livability while attracting tourism.

  7. State: Pass right to food legislation that gives state residents the unalienable right to grow, produce and consume food of their choice.

State Examples

  • Colorado (2017 CO SB 267) legislators enacted a bill to support local public transportation projects and earmarked one-fourth of the funds for projects in rural counties.

  • In Texas (2021 TX HB 1294), lawmakers introduced legislation to exempt rural transit districts from motor fuel taxes on any fuel used exclusively to provide public transportation.

  • Hawaii (2021 HI SB 1402) lawmakers enacted a bill requiring the development of a plan to modernize the state’s ground transportation system, including prioritizing public mass transportation and establishing a contiguous network of bicycle and pedestrian pathways. The plan must provide equity for all communities and users, in recognition of how inequitable infrastructure investments have exacerbated disparities, particularly in rural areas.

  • North Carolina (2019 NC SB 665) legislators considered the Omnibus Rural Investment Act to increase state matching funds for public recreation projects, such as rural hiking trails for smaller counties.

  • California (2021 CA AB 1177) recently enacted a state-owned public banking option to support community banking, offering a zero-fee and zero-penalty bank account, debit card, and financial services to communities vulnerable to predatory financial institutions.

  • By executive order, Michigan (2022-1 MI) created the Office of Rural Development to coordinate state activities impacting rural areas, including economic and workforce development, infrastructure, public health, and environmental sustainability.

  • By ballot measure, Maine (Maine H.P. 61) adopted an amendment to its constitution that enshrines the unalienable right of every resident to grow, produce, and consume the food of their choice.