Recently, I had the privilege of accompanying President Obama on his White House to Main Street Tour to visit towns in Missouri, Illinois and my home state of Iowa. Coming home to small towns in the Midwest reminds me of what terrific places they are to live – but also of the challenges that so many middle class Americans in these communities face on a daily basis.
The truth is that there is a silent crisis going on in rural America. Rural communities have higher poverty rates than the rest of the country, fewer people have college degrees, and many towns are watching as their young adults move away because they don’t see an opportunity to make a good living.
At the local businesses, farms and schools the President and I visited this week, folks were asking the same question: how can we bring economic vitality back to Main Streets across the nation? And many of our stops on the tour demonstrated possible answers to that question.
In Fort Madison, Iowa we visited a plant that manufactures blades for wind turbines that added nearly 400 new jobs with help from a grant from American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The Obama administration is hard at work supporting plants like this – and other renewable energy opportunities – to build a green economy that will also help combat climate change.
In my home town of Mt. Pleasant, Iowa the President and I visited a small farm and business supplying locally grown food to schools and businesses in the community. At USDA, our Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative is working to create more small businesses like this one that link local production to local consumers.
A newly-released report from the White House Council of Economic Advisers’ outlines more of the Administration’s policies that will bring greater economic prosperity to rural America. The Recovery Act laid the framework for this new rural economy, making important investments in broadband access, energy, education and infrastructure – but there is still more work to be done to create jobs and ensure prosperity in rural communities.
Coming home to the Midwest was a reminder of how a healthy American economy depends on a prosperous rural America – and some of the steps we need to take to build it. But it also showed me once again that President Obama is deeply committed to nurturing strong, robust, and vibrant rural communities so that Main Street’s across rural America remain the best places in this nation to live, work, and raise a family.
Tom Vilsack is Agriculture Secretary