Legislation is being developed in Nebraska that could become a national model for incentivizing wind development in ways that benefit rural communities.
The US Department of Energy study 20 Percent Wind by 2020 concluded that ramping up wind generation to 20 percent of the nation’s electricity would create 3,000 or more permanent jobs in many Great Plains and central US states. But the degree of benefit will always be greatest when local people share in the ownership of wind projects and the wealth they create. The benefits are further multiplied when local businesses become the builders and suppliers of wind farms.
Federal investment in revitalizing small towns and supporting small enterprise development has been plummeting. Congress has cut USDA rural development programs by one-third since 2003. Adjusted for inflation, Congress has eliminated half of USDA support for small towns and rural entrepreneurship.
Across the board, rural programs are being dismantled. The steepest cuts have been in grants and loans to small towns for community facilities and community development, which have been slashed by two-thirds. Small business development and funding for small town water and sewer systems have also taken deep cuts.
As we discussed in an earlier article (see September 2011 newsletter), data from the 2010 Census show that rural areas in the Great Plains and Midwest continue to lose population, while smaller cities and metropolitan areas continue to expand.
As Congress considers further spending cuts, several proposals target payments made to rural hospitals. Medicare currently makes limited special payments to some rural hospitals to account for the challenges of delivering care in rural areas.
Roger Hrabe is the Economic Developer for Rooks County, Kansas, an area of six small towns located in northwest Kansas with a total population of around 5,000. This is his 11th year, having worked as a teacher and coach before life took him in this direction.