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Rebuilding rural America through rural philanthropy

POSTED August 2, 2011 10:55 p.m.

 President Obama and I have worked hard to build thriving, sustainable economies communities in rural America. This is essential to the strength of our nation, but government cannot do it alone in these tough economic times.

 Outside funders and partnerships must place a central role both in leveraging federal investments and filling in funding gaps to move projects off the drawing board and give them life.

 From the Rural Tour, which I led two years ago —  to the new White House Rural Council, which I chair — from broadband, to energy and microenterprises, the USDA’s ongoing focus has been jobs and opportunity for rural citizens. This kind of opportunity adds value to agricultural products, attracts industry and makes rural America competitive. But our work also goes to quality-of-life issues like education, healthcare and community services, and makes rural communities better places to live and raise families.

Rural America abounds with potential, but we must better use a powerful tool capable of also improving opportunity in rural America: philanthropic partnerships.

 Our rural communities need more investment, innovation and networks.

 To unleash the wealth and capital that exist in our rural communities we need funding from many sources. That is why I traveled to Kansas City this week to address the Rural Philanthropy Conference of the Council on Foundations.

 Moving forward, resources federal and state investments will need to be stretched. Foundations can provide an important boost to our efforts to create new jobs.  

 I encouraged them to work with government leaders and think creatively on how to maximize the impact of all of our investments.

 USDA has and will continue to work with our foundation partners.

Morton Township in Michigan, for example, raised more than $150,000 to leverage USDA Rural Development funding through the Recovery Act. The community is gaining a library expansion that will offer more computer workstations, meeting rooms and parking.

 The Ċokata Wiċoni Teen Center of South Dakota is gaining furniture and equipment thanks to a USDA matching grant for $135,000. The Center successfully achieved the match through a number of donors, including the South Dakota Community Foundation.

 These examples reflect the potential for stronger and more frequent collaboration that will revitalize our rural economy and expand opportunity for our rural families.

 

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