We're a year away from political elections, and jobs and the economy permeate the candidates' rhetoric. What if one of them was to stand up and literally guarantee millions of new jobs for rural Americans?
I'm not running for office, but I am proposing a jobs creation plan that can do just that: A National Rural America Jobs Creation Plan. Funded through a public/private partnership, the plan offers private investors a 50 percent reduction in investment risk when investing in rural USA companies.
Imagine, taking outsourced technology jobs back from India and China. Putting Americans back to work and getting better results at the same time!
There are a fair amount of assumptions in job creation proposals, but here are some current facts from the FCC's The National Broadband Plan, submitted to Congress in March 2010:
- 50 percent of U.S. jobs currently require technology skills;
- 100 million Americans are currently without broadband service;
- The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 provided $7.2 billion to fund the expansion of broadband access and adoption across the U.S., both upgrading current and adding new users;
- In 2000, our country counted 8 million broadband users, but 10 short years later, that number approached 200 million;
- The U.S. government, through a variety of mechanisms, is reaching its goal for every American to "have affordable access to robust broadband service, and the means and skills to subscribe if they so choose".
Based on these facts, the FCC's The National Broadband Plan: Connecting America assumes that in another 10 years, the number of jobs requiring technology skills will grow by another 27 percent - suddenly, that 50 percent of U.S. jobs requiring technology skills becomes a mind-boggling 77 percent!
So why invest in rural USA jobs? Check your news sources. Rural USA is lighting its way out of dark economic shadows. Yes, extreme weather conditions have hit agricultural industries hard, and that means that those who depend on agriculture as an income source now must augment that income, or transition completely. But it's not just agricultural workers; families longing for a quieter, less restrictive and more importantly, a more profitable way of life, have discovered and are still discovering a quality-of-life treasure trove in the Midwest such as is highlighted by Wisconsin's Lake Michigan TechShore.
Cost of living is often half of urban areas, which means wages can be lower while still allowing workers to enjoy the dreams their urban counterparts lost years ago. The lower rural USA wages enable rural Americans to be cost competitive with outsourcing countries such as India and China. I knew this when I created my company, Rural America Onshore Outsourcing. We routinely beat overseas competitors' prices....especially for higher, value added, outsourcing services.
The talent is there, combined with a willingness and desire to work -- indeed, a strong work ethic that often exceeds urban areas. And navigating across rural America is not cumbersome when compared to overseas outsourcing. Why? Because of technology. Many of those 100 million Americans that currently have no broadband service will be accessible as they enter the virtual work force. Many already have the advanced professional skills. You are also not navigating through extreme cultural differences or geographical boundaries. Imagine, taking outsourced technology jobs back from India and China! infrastructure!
Why not take advantage of this technological infrastructure, a digitally enabled, low-cost, workforce -- and reinvest in the American economy? Ohio has proved it can be done: Ohio's Third Frontier Program was created in 2002, focusing on five advanced technologies programs. It was so successful in creating thousands of jobs and generating increased tax revenue that the program was extended to 2015.
How successful? How about creating 41,300 new jobs while realizing a $10 return for every $1 invested over a 5-year period? The overall tax revenue generated by Third Frontier should exceed the state's entire investment by 2014, and result in a total economic impact 11 times its investment.
In 2005, I spoke before Ohio's Senate Finance Committee about expanding their plan to Ohio rural areas; and helped write the language that was incorporated into the final authorization bill. I'm going to promote it again. My national plan will model Ohio's success, focusing on growth areas important to our country's future: Information Technology(IT), e-commerce, advanced energy, biomedical, and advanced materials.
- Funding is simple: 50 percent of the funding is backed by federal government bonds, 50 percent from local venture capital and angel investment groups. To start, I propose each state start with a combined pool: $5 million from government; $5 million from private investors. This allows each state to start with $10 million, which amounts to a total of $500 million for all 50 states. The investment groups get access to the bond money which reduces their overall investment risk by 50 percent. That's a huge incentive for investors to place funds in rural USA companies that will lead to job creation.
- These angel groups invest in existing and new businesses located in Tier 2 and smaller rural cities and communities. Entrepreneurs flow to where capital is available: New technology companies will be formed and that creates jobs. When successful, mature companies are sold, the profits are shared between the government and the investors. The government bonds are then repaid with proceeds from sales of the companies.
This should not be a hard sell. FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski is certainly an advocate of this thinking; his recent speeches to business and civic groups around the country tout hope and pledge action, particularly through the Connect America Fund. He acknowledges that connecting un-served and underserved Americans is one key to not only our nation's recovery, but global competitiveness.
Global competitiveness through connectivity in underserved rural areas, supported by the U.S. government - that's an investment worth pursuing.
Here's how you can help get the word out about creating jobs in rural USA:
- Contact your federal and state representatives. If you are unsure who represents you, go to www.votesmart.org for information on both your federal and state representatives. Here is some sample text for your e-mail or written communication (to be most effective, you should try to put these thoughts into your own words):
Dear Senator/Representative Name:
The National Rural America Jobs Creation Plan will employ thousands of unemployed Americans in rural areas - including in your district - with minimum risk to private and government investors. This simple but comprehensive public/private Plan models the successful Third Frontier Program implemented in Ohio in 2002, which created jobs and increased that state's tax revenue. The Plan also complements and meets the goals of the bipartisan American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which invested in technology to bring Internet access to millions of under- and un-served Americans. The Plan would grant our state $10 million to create or expand jobs in IT, e-commerce, advanced energy, biomedical and advanced materials. Please visit www.techshore.org/NRAJCP to become one of its advocates.
Working together, we can create jobs in the rural USA. I welcome your thoughts, ideas, and passion for improving people's lives.
Look for updates in future columns.