Rural America and Immigration Reform

America needs to fix its broken immigration policy. Immigration reform is vital to rural America. It should create opportunities for undocumented immigrants who fulfill their citizenship requirements to remain in the U.S. as citizens, while setting higher, more realistic limits for legal immigration.

The door to legal immigration used by earlier generations is today largely closed for all but the wealthy. Only 10,000 manually skilled workers are admitted into the U.S. annually, about one for every 100 immigrants who enter without a visa and find work. More appropriate and reasonable limits should be established by an independent commission, free of partisan rancor. And America must more effectively enforce existing wage and labor laws and the prohibition on hiring undocumented immigrants and falsely classifying them as independent contractors.

The economic contribution made to Nebraska by new Americans is significant. A University of Nebraska Omaha study found immigrant spending in Nebraska resulted in $1.6 billion of production to our economy, generating approximately 12,448 jobs.

The Center for Rural Affairs supports efforts to fully engage immigrants in rural communities. And we walk the walk. Our Hispanic Business Center provides lending, training, business planning and technical assistance to rural, Latino owned businesses. And we’ve worked across Nebraska to help Latino farmers and ranchers overcome barriers they face in starting up farms and ranches and in accessing USDA credit, conservation and farm programs. These approaches bring people together and build community - things we work for every day. Read more about Rural America and Immigration Reform

  • Small TownsCommunity Development
Weekly column

The House Farm Bill... Good, Bad & Ugly

On July 11, 2013, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a Farm Bill that was, unfortunately, missing the nutrition title, which provides authority for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, or food stamps) and other nutrition programs for low-income families.

Historically, an amendment introduced in the earlier Farm Bill debate by Representative Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) to place meaningful limits on how much one farm operation can receive in federal farm program payments was retained. Rep. Fortenberry’s determined championing of farm program reform is laudable and a bright spot in what otherwise was a discouraging debate over farm, food and rural policy.

Sadly, the House Farm Bill fails to hold crop insurance premium subsidies to the same standard as farm program payments, continuing to allow the nation’s largest farms and wealthiest farmers to continue to receive crop insurance premium subsidies every year on every acre regardless of price, production or profitability, with no limits whatsoever.

Moreover, the House Farm Bill fails to tie crop insurance to conservation compliance or to prevent the breaking of native grassland for crop production. It also fails to adequately invest in conservation and rural development, small business development in particular.

Arguably, the ugliest facet of this Farm Bill process was the turn toward partisan rancor. In the end, every House Democrat voted against the bill and all but twelve Republicans voted in favor. The Farm Bill should reflect rural America’s priorities and not get bogged down in petty partisan politics. Read more about The House Farm Bill... Good, Bad & Ugly

  • Farm PolicyFarm Bill
Weekly column

How Can I Survive and Thrive in the Growing World Economy?

It is the summer of 2013, and by now we’ve all heard for the past 5 or 6 years about the advantages or possibly the disadvantages of the growing “World” economy. You may live in the Midwest or Great Plains and have a GREAT work ethic and an unbelievable sense of resourcefulness. Yet by most people on either coast’s opinion, you live in the middle of nowhere. I’m sure you’re wondering ... what’s so great about a world economy? What can I do from here? 

Well, wonder no longer, THAT opportunity is right underneath your nose in your home town. You’ve probably passed one going home this morning, or there is one parked on your street down the block. It might be a Kenworth, Peterbilt, Volvo, Freightliner, or Mack. And their owner (possibly your neighbor) more than likely has it fueled, serviced, and shined— ready for action. What’s his or her secret? 

In today’s world economy, what happens in Broken Bow, Nebraska, can have an impact on what goes on in Beijing. It’s pretty predictable that when we take a person off a farm in China or Vietnam and they start earning a wage, the first thing they want to do is improve their diet. When we buy exports from China, that new purchasing power allows them to import more of our country’s beef, pork, poultry, and grains. 

As the price of grain and land continues to go up, our production and trade demand for these goods have remained very high despite the recent slowdown in the economy. Before you know it we have a lot of demand for each other’s products - but we are still on opposite sides of the globe. What’s next? A high demand for transportation to get things to and from Beijing to Broken Bow! 

I’ll bet it’s starting to make sense. Ignore the claims that we’re in the middle of nowhere. Put our usual positive “spin” on it. Then we realize with great pride a natural advantage. We are actually in the middle of everywhere! 

Now you realize why you see all those trucks on Interstate 80. It’s the nation’s most heavily traveled east/west commercial highway pipeline for trade. If you want to become part of this ever growing trucking industry that can’t be offshored or outsourced, but in most communities across our region will always be touching either the first or last miles in the goods we either produce or consume in their worldwide journey called world trade in a world economy. 

How do you get involved? First, if you don’t know how already, learn to drive! Take a CDL course at your local community college or private school to get a little experience under your belt. If you’re like a lot of folks in Nebraska’s trucking industry, you’ll eventually want to own one yourself. 

That’s when you can turn to REAP for help. They offer excellent business training, technical assistance, and loan opportunities. Contact the Nebraska Trucking Association for guidance on how to get and stay in compliance with all the Federal and State Dept. of Transportation Safety and taxation rules. We’ll be happy to get you started! 

Questions? Get in touch with our guest author:
Larry A. Johnson, President of the Nebraska Trucking Association, at 402.476.8504 or . Read more about How Can I Survive and Thrive in the Growing World Economy?

  • Small Business

Hate it or Love it-Technology Is Part of Your Life

What does it mean to you to be behind on technology? This is one of multiple problems Hispanic business owners face every day. No doubt you have gone through many advances in technology the last few years. How many of you remember the Telex, typewriters, disk phones, overhead projectors, and big computers that took half your desk?

Maybe you grew up with Betamax, 45 or 33 records, discs, cassettes, walkmans, and many other devices that were popular only few years ago. It seems like yesterday when you added these articles to your Christmas list. The problem doesn’t affect younger generations since they grow up with these items. But it really affects middle-age individuals who are afraid of the fast-paced changes we are experiencing.

Computers, smart phones, and tablets are important pieces of your daily activities. You hear all the time what would happen if you do not have this or that.

The reality is that you cannot separate your lives from technology. From applying to jobs, receiving your bank statement online, applying for benefits, filing certain tax forms, buying from suppliers, sending letters or documents that take two or three days compared to exchanging information in minutes through e-mail. Text messages, photos and pictures, estimates, and even forwarding your calls from your land line to your cell phone are some of the many things you can do to be efficient in your daily routine.

The REAP Hispanic Business Center staff has been sensitive and proactive about this issue, creating trainings and workshops to in¬troduce small business owners to computers, new software, internet, and social media sites.

The classes are offered in communities across the state, especially in community colleges and libraries. Some of the training includes:

Computer Basics: Designed for individuals with limited exposure to computers. You will learn to start your computer, parts, opening and closing programs, naming and saving files, copying, cutting and pasting, navigating online, using and organizing favorites, cookies, and viruses.

Microsoft Office: Referred to as an intermediary course, you will be introduced to the newest updates, especially if you have never taken formal classes about the program. The workshop will provide you many tools to create, design, and learn multiple options and keys you can use to develop a word document or use spreadsheets to control sales, inventory, or keeping data based on current sales and clients.

Also, if you haven’t used PowerPoint, you’ll learn to create presentations with your products and services to show your neighbors and customers. Videos are so popular that YouTube is considered the second largest search engine online.

E-Commerce: If you are unfamiliar, you should take this training. The class explains how to protect your information online, buying and selling, learning new ways to pay for your products, and a brief introduction to social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter to mention just two.

As new equipment and machines continue to be part of your lives, it’s time to do something before it’s too late. There’s nothing I like better than when my REAP clients communicate with me through e-mail or social media when they need services. It makes me feel we’ve done the right thing, AND it makes my job easier!

If you have any questions about the classes, please contact me, Juan E. Sandoval, at or 402.371.7786. Read more about Hate it or Love it-Technology Is Part of Your Life

  • Small Business

REAP Women’s Business Center Offers Essential Business Training

A solid legal structure for your business puts you on good footing. And capturing the ins and outs of social media can catapult your business into the expanding world of online commerce. The Women’s Business Center offers education in both topics to help rural small businesses flourish.

Legal Issues for Small Businesses and Nonprofits - We partnered with the Creighton University School of Law Community Economic Development Clinic (CED) to present Legal Issues sessions for businesses and for nonprofits. The Furnas-Harlan Partnership helped co-sponsor the sessions in Arapahoe. Milo Alexander, the clinic’s retiring director, gave detailed information and answered questions posed by the attendees.

Make the Most of Social Media - We collaborated with University of Nebraska-Extension to sponsor several “Making the Most of Social Media Marketing” sessions. Extension educators Connie Hancock and Jay Jenkins presented sessions in Ainsworth, Kimball, and Sidney. More are coming in Valentine, Ainsworth, North Platte, Oakland, and Chadron.

Participants were encouraged to determine their purpose for having their business online. Keys are identifying goals, identifying target audience, creating a profile/brand, and finding the right social media for your business.

It’s critical to “claim your bubble” so customers can find your business. Keep your eye on comments, address any negative feedback, and reply politely to all inquiries. Is your business website pertinent, with updated content? This is crucial to your success.

When you have those basics in hand, it’s time to plan your Social Media Strategy. Our training sessions covered Facebook, Google+, and Pinterest, with other forums discussed. YouTube and Email are also valuable tools to connect with customers.

For information on upcoming Social Media sessions, call 402.643.2673 or email

Read more about REAP Women’s Business Center Offers Essential Business Training

  • Small Business

Center for Rural Affairs July 2013 Newsletter

Summer heat has arrived in full force. As you rummage for a cool read, reach no further than the Center’s July newsletter. A new poll finds rural voters don’t neatly fit any ideological stereotypes. You'll also find coverage on connecting small renewable generators to the grid, shelved GMO wheat discovered in Oregon, and the Center’s leadership transition plans. Dive in! Read more about Center for Rural Affairs July 2013 Newsletter

Rural America and Immigration Reform

The impact of immigration reform on rural America has not been at the forefront of the debate in Washington, D.C.

The Center for Rural Affairs urges passage of comprehensive federal legislation to reform America’s fundamentally broken immigration policy. It is crucial that Congress understands that immigration reform is vitally important to rural America.

Immigration reform should create opportunities for undocumented immigrants who fulfill the requirements for obtaining citizenship to remain in the U.S. as citizens, while creating a more robust process for legal immigration that shortens the waiting list for future immigrants.

Also, limits on the number of manually skilled workers allowed to immigrate into the U.S. each year should be practical and appropriate and determined by an independent commission, free of partisan rancor. The U.S. admits only 10,000 manually skilled workers on work visas each year, about one for every 100 immigrants who enter without a visa and find work. The door to legal immigration used by earlier generations is today largely closed for all but the wealthy.

Moreover, we need more effective enforcement of existing wage and labor laws and the prohibition on hiring undocumented immigrants and falsely classifying them as independent contractors.

The Center for Rural Affairs stands ready to encourage and participate in efforts to fully engage immigrants in rural communities through support for minority business development, voter registration, leadership development and other means. These approaches bring people together and build community - things we work for every day.

  Read more about Rural America and Immigration Reform

Weekly column

Energy Fellow Works on Alternatives to Eminent Domain

My name is Brandon Gerstle, and I’m the new summer energy fellow at the Center. As an environmental law student at the University of Oregon, I was drawn to the Center because of their drive to find practical solutions to our nation’s environmental challenges.

I’ve been in Lyons for 3 weeks, and, while it’s different from my hometown of Los Angeles, I feel like I’m living the good life: buying locally produced food, attending a rodeo, and even making my own butter.

My big summer project is to investigate alternatives to eminent domain for development of new transmission lines. This is a really interesting and important project. Development of new transmission lines will:

  • Increase competition in the energy market, reducing consumers’ energy bills. 
  • Reduce greenhouse emissions by connecting renewable energy resources (i.e. wind) to the grid and linking surplus generation capacity to areas of need. 
  • Generate good paying jobs for hardworking Americans. 

You might be thinking why not use eminent domain? The simple answer is many states deny eminent domain authority for siting interstate transmission lines. Some critics also dislike eminent domain because it under-compensates landowners and causes economic waste through excessive administrative and legal costs.

From the landowner’s perspective, I’m considering land acquisition approaches that result in more equitable outcomes. These include public and private arrangements that allow landowners to accept cash buyouts or share in the profits of the transmission project.

From the developer’s perspective, I’m considering factors to assist developers in assembling land without the use of eminent domain. These include using government land, public financing, tax incentives, and wise strategies to build landowner consensus. Ultimately, the goal is to inspire projects that benefit the public at large, landowners, and developers.

I’m here in Lyons all summer, and encourage you to contact me with your thoughts on the development of new transmission lines. My number is 402.687.2103, ext 1021, or email brandong@cfra.orgTalk to you soon! Read more about Energy Fellow Works on Alternatives to Eminent Domain

  • Clean Energy
Your stories

Democracy Shouldn’t Be All Greek to Us

Ancient Greece, the original seat of democracy, placed a high value on wide ownership of land and distribution of wealth. Great numbers of small farms provided decent livelihoods for families and a wide berth to societal wealth sharing. This structure nurtured political institutions of law and liberty and formed a rock-solid foundation for democracy.

Widespread wealth and political power strengthened Greek society by fueling pursuits and advances in science, philosophy, art, literature, and a social environment that valued progress for people from all walks of life.

Political observers have noted that a republic cannot long survive when land and wealth concentrate in too few hands. When this is allowed to happen in the rural/agrarian domain (and it most definitely is happening), it imperils more than healthy stewardship of land, water and soil ecology, and community life. It also undermines the age-old principles of economic and social justice upon which democracy thrives.

When political process and Supreme Court decisions value the influence of money over diverse human aspiration and the advance of civilization, the nation is traveling down a troublesome path. The exact nature of that path may be hard to discern, but it will certainly not favor the common good.

Narrow-based power produces narrow-based policy founded on the premise that “what’s good for the elite is good for the country.” This is patently wrong. Diminishment of the middle class and increases in the ranks of the working poor, no matter how creatively or disingenuously you paint it, is not a good thing for liberty, democracy, or civilization.

What kind of society do you want your grandchildren to inherit? One that places ultimate value on the special interests of those who have amassed their fortune, or one that invests widely in human potential? Read more about Democracy Shouldn’t Be All Greek to Us

Blog (deprecated)

Opinions Wanted: Would You Grow Trees to Capture Carbon if Paid?

Iowa State researchers are recruiting for farmer/rancher focus groups to offer opinions on appropriate use of 'marginal lands' for biofuel crops, agroforestry (windbreaks and more), and carbon sequestration in the Great Plains. Experience with trees on your farm or ranch is desired (yes, cedars are trees!).

Researchers want to know what you think about diversifing your farm income and enhancing environmental quality by producing biomass from agroforestry practices. They'll also ask how you would decide to participate in such practices.

Two focus groups per state will meet with researchers in August and September; locations and times determined by the participants. A stipend of $100 is offered. Four states are part of this project: NE, SD, ND, KS.

Additional information on the project is here. Or you can contact Ashley Hand to learn more, or 515.294.9845.

  Read more about Opinions Wanted: Would You Grow Trees to Capture Carbon if Paid?

  • Clean Energy
  • Farm PolicyFarm and Food
Blog (deprecated)

A Balanced and Fair Tax System for Nebraska

Fourteen Nebraska lawmakers are about to embark on an important assignment. As members of the Tax Modernization Committee, they will be reviewing and debating the state tax code. Fortunately, the Center for Rural Affairs can offer some help.

We remind everyone of our 1992 report, A Balanced and Fair Tax System for Nebraskans. This report was commissioned by the CFRA Board of Directors. They created a task force to take a comprehensive look at Nebraska’s tax structure.
The task force’s report offered three broad goals:

  • Reduce the share of state and local revenue coming from property taxes.
  • Broaden the sales tax base and lower rates.
  • Make the overall tax system less regressive.

These goals echo 21 years after the report’s release. In fact, they all played a major role in the 2013 legislative debate on proposals by Governor Dave Heineman to eliminate the state income tax and numerous sales tax exemptions. That debate resulted in the creation of the Tax Modernization Committee, which will conduct the first comprehensive legislative review of Nebraska’s tax system since 1967.
The Tax Modernization Committee will hold hearings across the state and offer other opportunities for public participation during 2013. We will provide information how you can offer your ideas for a fair, competitive and stable state tax system. Read more about A Balanced and Fair Tax System for Nebraska

Weekly column

Rockin’ Rural and Spreading the Word

When you know something is great – whether a product or a place – you tell people about it. Likewise when you are trying to sell a product, you usually do some advertising.

The average person is exposed to as many as 5,000 advertisements a day (according to Yankelovich Consumer Research). But how often do we hear or see advertisements for small towns and rural communities? These places have great things to offer including jobs, natural amenities, and the ideal atmosphere to raise a family. Yet many of these communities are suffering from a decrease in population (the 2012 census estimates that 1 in 3 US counties are dying off) and are desperate to attract new residents.

Aging and dwindling populations are synonymous with rural areas. These areas need skilled labor and educated people. Doctors, lawyers, teachers, and people to take over small businesses are needed as older generations retire.

Yet many college grads bypass rural areas and flock to cities to pursue work. We assume they are drawn by the allure of a big city lifestyle. But maybe they would be drawn to the charming lifestyle/ way of life rural America has to offer, especially if they knew what they were missing.

My hometown recently launched a contest to promote the community on one of the most popular online sites – YouTube. Contestants will create videos promoting the positives of the small town and what life is like in the community. Videos will showcase the town’s attributes, activities that are unique in and around the area, and the good life the town has to offer.

The video with the most “hits” or views during a specific time period will win a cash prize. If the “hits” reach a million or more, the prize money will double. The prize money will come from city sales tax dollars.

Is promoting your town on YouTube a magic bullet for the “brain drain” so many of our towns experience? Probably not, but it could be an important piece. A concentrated ad campaign that entices college grads and other potential residents to rural areas is a great antidote to the rural exodus. Why not shine a bright light on all that is good in rural America? Read more about Rockin’ Rural and Spreading the Word

  • Small TownsCommunity Development

Connecting Small Renewable Generators to the Grid

The Center recently joined with 24 other organizations to support changes to federal regulations that will make it easier for small and midsize solar and wind systems to connect to the electric grid.

Proposed changes will increase transparency and reduce wait time when generation systems producing 20 megawatts or less seek to connect to the grid.

Falling capital costs and public policy changes are already leading to a boom in grid-connected distributed generation. A large share of this is from home and farm based solar. The proposed regulatory changes supported by the Center will further support small grid connected systems. Read more about Connecting Small Renewable Generators to the Grid

  • Clean Energy

Poll Finds Rural Voters Support Investment in Small Business, Education

Most Rural Americans strongly believe the rural and small-town way of life is worth fighting for and support government action to strengthen the rural economy and communities.

Those findings come from a poll of rural voters in the Great Plains, Midwest, and Southeastern US by the nationally respected bipartisan polling team of Celinda Lake and Ed Goeas. You can see the full report here.

Rural voters think for themselves and don’t neatly fit an ideological stereotype. Most agree that America’s future is weakened by a widening gap between the rich and families struggling to make ends meet.

And nearly half say it’s time for government to play a stronger role in strengthening rural communities and making the economy work for the average person in rural and small-town America. But almost as many worry that “turning to big government to solve our problems will do more harm than good.”

Rural voters support several specific measures to strengthen rural opportunities and communities:

  • Over half said that “owning my own business or farm is a big part of the American dream for me,” and most agreed with helping small business through less government (cutting taxes, spending, and regulation) and strengthened government (loans, tax credits, training, and antitrust enforcement).
  • Three-fourths support tax credits and investment in new transmission lines for development of wind, solar, and other renewable electric generation in rural areas.
  • Eight-in-10 support grants and loans to revitalize small towns through critical upgrades to water and sewer systems and roads and bridges.
  • Six-in-10 say government has some or a lot of responsibility to help the working poor advance economically (versus a little or none). Eight-in-10 support job training to improve earnings, Medicaid for health coverage, and helping the working poor afford the necessities of life through payroll tax refunds like the Earned Income Tax Credit. Eighty-five percent favor preschool programs to prepare lower-income children to succeed in school.

To pay for such measures, rural voters support cutting farm subsidies to big mega farms, while opposing general cuts in farm subsidies. They oppose across the board tax increases, but favor repealing the Bush tax cuts for those earning over $250,000.

The poll also asked voters to identify the most convincing of several statements that might be made by a candidate for office. They chose: “Making rural America stronger is good both short term and long term. It will offer our children and grandchildren the opportunity to stay here, maintaining our way of life and protecting our values. By creating a stronger economy, investing in small businesses and schools, we can help working and middle class families get ahead. We can create stronger communities so young people can choose to stay and make a life in rural and small-town America.”

View the poll results as a pdf here. Read more about Poll Finds Rural Voters Support Investment in Small Business, Education


Land Link Sneak Peek: Small Acreage in Washington Seeks Growers

We have a great opportunity for you in western Washington! The owner of a small, certified organic, established mixed vegetable/herb farm seeks a new grower(s) to continue the direct sales operation.

The 4.7 acre farm includes two houses (where the grower(s) could live), three greenhouses, a barn, and miscellaneous sheds. The owner would lease to the right beginners for several years.

Interested in the Center for Rural Affairs Land Link program or this opportunity? Contact me, Virginia Meyer, at 402.687.2103 ext. 1014 or Read more about Land Link Sneak Peek: Small Acreage in Washington Seeks Growers

  • Farm PolicyBeginning Farmer & Rancher


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