Former Pres. Clinton & Sen. Lincoln promise a rural renaissance

By Jon H. Harsch

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

Washington, April 28 – If former President Bill Clinton’s forecast is right, new wealth will be created not by Wall Street or Silicon Valley but instead by a rural American renaissance. Speaking as a former Arkansas “farm state governor” Wednesday, Clinton told a crowd of senators, senate staffers and rural development advocates from as far away as Alaska that there’s an urgent need to accelerate job creation in rural areas.

At the first-ever Senate Democratic Rural Summit, Clinton agreed with other speakers like Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) and participants from across the country that a vital first step is to extend high-speed internet service throughout rural America. Then he focused his remarks on rural-based renewable energy, saying “I think we have only barely scratched the surface” and that clean energy is the “bird’s nest on the ground.”

Former President Bill Clinton with Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI)
at the Rural Summit. Photo: Agri-Pulse. 
Clinton said to connect the untapped wealth of rural-based energy with energy-hungry cities “there needs to be a real rural push” to build a modern, high-voltage electric transmission network to catch up with other countries like Denmark and Germany which have taken the lead on generating rural jobs and prosperity with renewable energy.

Clinton said banks currently hold some $1.5 trillion which should be used to unleash $15 trillion in lending to finance a rural renaissance. He called for investing in projects to convert cellulose into ethanol and landfills into co-gen heat and power because “a local garbage dump is money going to waste.”

Following his speech at the summit, Clinton told Agri-Pulse that “You can’t bring back rural America just with agriculture. We know that the farm subsidy programs, as important as they are, may aggregate farm income, but that’s not labor intensive enough to make the difference we need. We’ve got to diversity the economy of rural America and take advantage of the other assets. And also spin off the farmers into other things like the biofuels market and different kinds of biofuels. So I think with a focus on this by Congress, I bet you’d be surprised how much bipartisanship support there’d be. I never had any problems getting Republicans to help me on this stuff.”

With good federal policy to focus resources on rural needs including jobs, education, healthcare and broadband, Clinton told summit participants that “Manufacturing is going to make a comeback in America, you mark my words, because of what’s happening . . . It’s going to be an enormous opportunity for small towns and rural Americans to get manufacturing jobs. You ought to go home, whatever the Congress does, to make sure that your state and your community have a strategy for going after this. . . It will help to raise incomes in rural America. It will help to supplement farm incomes. It’s going to come back. You need to be ready.”

Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Blanche Lincoln (D-AR)
hosting the Rural Summit. Photo: Agri-Pulse 

Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) who hosted the summit along with Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) asked participants for ideas, saying “Senate Democrats have a strong record for rural America, but we can always do better.” She said that to achieve “a sustainable rural economy,” she’s been hard at work in the Senate using her “female persistence and perseverance which some people consider nagging” on issues ranging from renewing the expired biodiesel tax credits to improving rural healthcare and education. At the summit, she garnered more than just Bill Clinton’s wholehearted support for rural development. He also promised to visit their shared home state to help with her campaign to win a third Senate term in November.

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