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Recent posts by Brian Depew

From the executive director: connecting housing and economic development 

The Center has long focused on strategies to support economic vitality for small communities. Our work to assist small businesses, develop value-added agriculture, and improve policy all focus on creating widespread opportunity for people who live in rural areas.

Increasingly, we see small town housing as an economic development issue. While adequate and affordable housing is a quality of life issue, it also plays an important role in economic development. A lack of local housing can undercut successful business start-up or business growth strategies.

From the desk of our executive director: Get big or get out, a redux

Asked about the plight of dairy farmers in Wisconsin, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said, “[The] big get bigger and small go out and that’s kind of what we’ve seen here...

Everyone will have to make their own decisions economically whether they can survive.”

The Center for Rural Affairs was founded in 1973. Earl Butz was Secretary of Agriculture. Butz had a similar view, “Get big or get out.”

Butz believed farm consolidation was inevitable.

From the desk of the executive director: the little program that could

Let me tell you a story. It’s a story of a little program called RMAP. Sounds wonky, right?

It’s the Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program, which is part of the larger farm bill. The story started a long time ago.

A Center study in the late 1980s showed a high rate of self-employment in rural areas, but few economic development strategies to help this sector. The more rural the area, the higher the rate of self-employment, the report documented. This research led us to expand our programs to serve small businesses.

From the desk of the executive director: Connecting capital and small town home ownership

Home ownership increases family and community stability. When residents live in a community, they shop at local businesses, take part in community organizations, and send their children to local schools. Home ownership is also a key strategy to help low and middle income families build assets.

In many regions, rural residents benefit from more affordable housing stock. In 20 rural counties in our home state of Nebraska, more than 60 percent of houses sell for under $70,000, for instance.

From the desk of the executive director: Is industrial hemp an opportunity?

The most recent farm bill establishes a roadmap for the cultivation of industrial hemp. Congress was right to loosen the restriction on growing this crop, a non-psychoactive relative of marijuana.

Each state now has the opportunity to establish a regulatory framework under which industrial hemp may be cultivated. If a state does not act, the U.S. Department of Agriculture will develop a uniform framework that will be applied in the state. The Center for Rural Affairs supports a bill working its way through the Nebraska Legislature to establish the framework in our home state.

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