in the Rural
of economic sessions of Rural Amerca, Community Issues,
a conference programmed by the Institute for Rural Journalism and
Community Issues for the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism,
University of Maryland, June 12-17, 2005
Globalization demands changes
in the way rural America develops its economy
Rural America must change the way it seeks jobs in
a globalized economy, and journalists should help public and private
policymakers at all levels realize the challenges and choices they
face, a leading student of the rural economy said at the "Rural
America, Community Issues" seminar at the University of Maryland
in June 2005.
The journalists heard from Mark Drabenstott, vice
president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City and
director of its Center for the Study of Rural America.
He said globalization is "changing the rules of the game in
profound ways and extraordinarily rapidly," and means that
rural America can no longer use cheap labor, low taxes and cheap
land to compete, because "legions of places around the world"
now have those advantages.
"We are going to move away from a model of recruiting
businesses to rural America to growing businesses in rural
America . . . gardening vs. hunting, if you will," Drabenstott
said. He said there are "exciting opportunities on the horizon"
but he sees "very little discussion" of the challenge.
"There is a tremendous opportunity for you to improve the economic
literacy of our nation on some of these issues," he told the
Drabenstott said one key to being competitive is thinking
regionally, from town to town and even across state lines. He said
people in a self-defined region should ask themselves: What are
our distinct economic assets? What market opportunity can we tap
that no one else can? How do we exploit our assets to seize that
opportunity? To answer such questions successfully, he said, a region
needs the fuel of innovation and the engine of entrepreneurs.
To function regionally, Drabenstott said, there must
be public-private partnerships; regional assets must be understood
and measured, competitive advantages must be identified, and entrepreneurs
must be developed.. A big question, he said, is whether the tools
of measurement and analysis will be private or public: "Do
we leave it to the consultants, or is it a job for the [Cooperative]
Extension Service?" he asked.
Al Cross, director of the Institute for Rural
Journalism and Community Issues, which programmed the conference,
mentioned the Kentuucky extension service's creation, with tobacco-settlement
funds, of an institute to train not just entrepreneurs but coaches
to train entrepreneurs in the state's most tobacco-dependent region.
Much of rural America will remain dependent on a commodity
economy, in which the major imperative is to be the low-cost producer,
requiring producers to “be big or be gone,” Drabenstott
said. "Agriculture is at a fork in the road," he said,
with this choice: "Continue to produce low-cost commodities
or growing what will sell instead of selling what you grow …
ranging from farm-fresh organic produce to pharmaceutical crops."
Drabenstott had a charge for journalists: "There’s
a tremendous opportunity for the press. How you build bridges across
your region as a public voice seems to me to be terribly important.
… Do you want to simply trumpet your home town and bash all
the other towns around you?" He challenged rural journalists
to "foster a climate for partnership by public and private
leaders" and focus coverage on long-term successes, not short-term
Drabenstott said such processes call for patience,
but he quoted an unnamed Texan on the urgency of the challenge facing
rural America: “Time is short, the stakes are high, and the
alternative is a Third World economy.”
Rural areas need high-speed
Internet to compete economically, researcher says
High-speed internet access is no longer a luxury for
rural communities because they need it to compete economically,
an expert on rural broadband said at the “Rural America, Community
"If you don't have broadband, certain things
don't fall into place as easily," said Sharon Strover, director
of the Telecommunications and Information Policy Institute at the
University of Texas. Not only do businesses use
the Internet to buy, sell, distribute and control inventory, but
health care increasingly uses Web-based forms to deliver information,
and governments are interested in providing services online because
it is cheaper, she said.
“What we’ve also heard from rural communities
is that telecommunications was important to them because they are
losing population," Strover said. Broadband access can entice
young people to "stick around a little longer" and explore
career options closer to home. She said terms like “the knowledge
economy” can “create a lot of fear in rural areas because
they feel like they’re gonna fall behind; they’re not
there yet and the rest of the world is.”
When some local governments got into the broadband
business, telephone companies began lobbying legislatures to pass
laws making municipal broadband more difficult or impossible. The
companies say "Get rid of government and we’ll compete,"
Strover said. “In fact, competition doesn’t just occur
after government is no longer there. ... Everybody talks a good
line about competition, but in fact, companies hate it." For
more of this view, click
Strover said the national extent of broadband monopolies
is difficult to determine, partly because the Federal Communications
Commission signed confidentiality agreements with providers.
Journalists may know who their local broadband providers are, but
Strover said they face other obstacles writing about the issue:
It is "filled with jargon," the technology changes constantly,
and the business is regulated at all three levels of government.
Recent data from the census and the Pew
Internet and American Life Project show that Internet
use by rural Americans is about 10 percent less than for the nation
as a whole, but rural broadband use is 50 percent less.
stores draining, reshaping economies, character of nation’s
When Wal-Mart Supercenters come to
towns across America, they drain about 70 percent of their trade
from local merchants and reshape the character of the communities,
retired Iowa State University economist Kenneth
Stone told the national rural journalism conference. Stone's research
also shows that the Supercenters have helped some local businesses
that don't compete with Wal-Mart, by generating traffic from a wider
Stone, who has become known in some circles as “the
Wal-Mart Man” because of his studies, conducted some of the
first and most extensive research on the economic impacts of malls,
discount stores and big-box building materials stores and various
forms of Wal-Marts. A study in Iowa showed Supercenters hurt grocery,
specialty and apparel stores but helped restaurants and service
businesses because of the “spillover” effect of extra
Wal-Mart, the nation’s largest retailer with
about 4,000 stores nationwide, had sales of more than $288 billion
last year, and is forecasting more than $416 billion by 2008. But
Stone said there are some signs that its growth is beginning to
taper off, as Wal-Marts become located more closely together and
drain traffic from each other.
When one journalist at the conference said some localities
are offering incentives to attract Wal-Mart supercenters, Stone
said he strongly opposes such deals.“It takes money from taxpayers
to give to big companies who then take it from the local merchants,”
Stone said Wal-Mart, under fire for its business practices,
is becoming more media-savvy in its public relations, providing
information that it once told journalists was proprietary, and has
started to buy run-of-paper advertsing in newspapers. A top Wal-Mart
official is scheduled to address this year's National Newspaper
Association convention in Milwaukee on Sept. 30. For more
on the convention, which runs Sept. 28-Oct. 1, click
For reports by the Institute for Rural Journalism
and Community Issues on two TV documentaries about Wal-Mart
last November, one of which featured Stone and his research, click
Agriculture still matters,
partly because it provides rural leadership, expert says
Though agriculture accounts for less than 1 percent
of America's gross domestic product, it remains important because
of its relationship to the environment and, more intriguingly, to
the culture and politics of America. So said David Freshwater, director
of graduate studies in agricultural economics at the University
Farmers are still "a key part of the social elite"
in rural areas, as leaders in civic, school and political groups,
and at the national level they exploit the agricultural roots of
the United States and do not align themselves closely with either
political party, giving them more leverage on both parties, Freshwater
said. "They have an effective voice that greatly outweighs
their numbers," he said, attributing that partly to leadership
training rural youth get in the Future Farmers of America
and 4-H Clubs.
Asked about the effect of the tobacco buyout on Kentucky,
the state with more tobacco growers than any other, Drabenstott
said it is"incredibly important" because "the tobacco
program froze the structure of agriculture in Kentucky in the 1930s,"
preserving it as a state of small farms and small towns. Without
the program, he said, Kentucky will produce as much tobacco, but
for less money, and "We'll see a lot of small-town dry-up."
Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues helps
non-metropolitan media define the public agenda in their communities,
through strong reporting and commentary on local issues and on broader
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at Appalachian State University, East Tennessee State University,
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the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, Washington and Lee University,
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additional financial support from the Ford Foundation. To
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