11/20/2012 11:32 am ET Updated Jan 20, 2013

Forging Economic Opportunities in Rural America


Congratulations to all the winners in this year's election. And, thanks to all of those who ran at every level. Now the hard work begins. Every election cycle, we hear lots about the divide between urban and rural voters. Well, as someone who lived for many years in the D.C. metro area and has lived the past 10 years in Northwest Montana, I'm well aware of some of those differences. But, what I see most often in my rural backyard is opportunity; opportunity supported by new technologies that have begun to eradicate the distance penalty that used to limit economic success in rural and small town America. It's an exciting time.

As a rural entrepreneur, I have seen firsthand the remarkable growth opportunities our entire Nation gains by engaging rural and small town entrepreneurs and businesses. There are 59 million Americans who live in rural communities and another 29 million who live in "urban-clusters" with populations between 2,500 and 50,000 residents. Based on the 2010 U.S. census, that's almost one-third of our Nation's population (28. 8% to be exact. ) To spur growth for these Americans, three areas of federal policy will be vitally important.

First, Washington, D.C. must recognize and support rural and small town businesses and entrepreneurs. These communities are full of entrepreneurs looking to grow their businesses. Inventors, retailers, apps designers, tech and energy innovators, restaurant owners, artists, the list goes on. These companies, like every other start-up, need access to money, broadband, and brains. Congress can help with that. Policies that expand local bank financing, healthcare options that don't break the bank for micro-business owners and their employees, and new angel investing and crowd funding opportunities are all possibilities.

Second, broadband is the holy grail of rural and small town growth and entrepreneurship. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has jurisdiction here and the challenges are getting tougher. We need more spectrum for mobile broadband, pro-growth rules that encourage the transition to advanced networks built by new and legacy providers, and a universal service system that works for rural communities. Staring at a slow moving loading bar is simply an unacceptable outcome for the remote health, distance learning and e-commerce requirements of rural Americans and the FCC has to quickly move forward to ensure that doesn't happen.

Third, Congress needs to revisit America's energy policy. In rural America, we drive longer and rely more on shipping than our urban neighbors. We rarely have access to public transportation. In other words, for those of us living remotely, the price of energy matters. But so does climate change and the health of our environment. After all, for us, recreation typically means being outside. So, we have to solve climate change but we can't do it simply by increasing prices on fossil fuels to decrease demand. That causes disproportionate harm to the millions of Americans that live outside urban centers. Instead, Congress should refine its energy policies to meet two goals; improving climate change and keeping prices reasonable for everybody. I personally know energy entrepreneurs across America, some right here in Montana, that are working today to make that happen.

We are a remarkable nation, filled with inventors and innovators and we will meet the challenges of our time. But, we are not just an urban nation. Millions of us choose to live in rural and small communities and, with the proper policies, we will be at the forefront of the innovations that revitalize our economy and galvanize our future. Let's get started.

Diane Smith serves on the advisory board for Mobile Future and was co-founder and chief executive officer of Auroras Entertainment, an IPTV and advanced media services company in Kalispell, Mont.