THE BLOG
07/23/2014 07:39 pm ET | Updated Sep 22, 2014

Could There Be an Economic Rebirth for Rural America?

I live in rural America. But my rural America is not the agricultural fields of waving grain so often imagined. It is not a land locked state in the center of our country. My county crashes up against the wild surf of the Pacific Ocean. It is filled with great natural beauty and diversity, encompassing forests of giant redwood groves, rugged coastlines, coastal mountains, small inland towns nestled in valleys, and yes, agricultural areas. We are a tourist destination for visitors from all over the world.

While much of rural America encompasses large agribusinesses, for many rural communities that only comprises just 7 percent of the businesses in those communities. The marketplace has changed from butcher, baker and candlestick maker to butcher, food product entrepreneur and high-tech worker. All of them are using innovative ways to re-new, replace or repair infrastructure.

The opportunities for an economic rebirth in rural America are as diverse as any street corner in downtown Manhattan. Now is the time to unlock the potential of this eco-system with support to counties who have innovative, sustainable business agendas. Those communities need more long-term capital investment in support of management as they grow their enterprise, and better business models for broadband access.

My sense of belonging to a rural community resides in the sustainable practices that help communities strive and thrive. I see many rural areas becoming diverse economies with leading industries such as niche manufacturing, management and innovation services and specialty agriculture, food, and beverages.

When these types of investments are made, I have seen tremendous growth. In businesses, like regional specialty food stores, the start-up rationale is to meet the local needs. Demand soon follows and capital investing helps them grow. Consider much of the wonderful and expensive wines we consume come from small rural communities in America. The expansion of this industry has evolved innovative sustainable techniques that are producing quantity without compromising quality.

But, when investments are withheld, projects never move beyond Power Point. Tremendous amounts of human capital are wasted creating the slides rather than invested in the execution.

One opportunity for patient capital investing can be found in support of our Redwood and Fir forests. The rise of excessive woody biomass in our forest has taken a toll. Biomass is one of the few renewable resources that can create greater problems when not used. It increases catastrophic forest fires, prevents conifer growth, and reduces water flowing into streams and tributaries. Fortunately the Biochar project has a solution to this challenge imbalance. But without capital that has a longer time horizon for return on investment, creative ideas like the Biochar project will never be able to move beyond a demonstration site. For rural communities small amounts of funds could create great things for the economy and the environment.

Urban and rural communities share similar challenges and opportunities to thrive in the new economy. That is why I look forward to joining my colleagues at the White House Rural Opportunity Investment Conference this week

As interest in social enterprise grows, it is time to look more closely at investing in the talent that exists in rural counties. People in rural communities lend their ambition to working hard for the outcome of a viable household and they pride themselves on being sustainable. When resources are limited, innovations bloom. But innovations cannot become a best practice if they languish on a document or a power point slide. Without the right combination of capital investing and training, economic rebirth cannot to take hold in rural America. We need to rise above the cornfields and see the entrepreneurs flourishing in the new economy.