Rural Development Funding Cuts Are Coming to the Chopping Block Near You And Why You Should Care

by Joanne Steele on March 1, 2011

A chopping blockSmall towns in the United States run on CDBG and USDA Rural Development funds and they are about to be drastically cut according to news reports both national and local.

Attend any rural community meeting discussing how to build a new, community center, or upgrade a small town water system, and the first solution you’ll hear is, “Get a grant to pay for that.”

Reading the latest news, I have a huge concern: These rural development and CDBG grants are the life’s blood for struggling rural communities. And our biggest competitors for this money are urban areas.

Who has the most leverage when it comes to getting a slice of the new, much smaller pie? A major metropolitan area with a ton of voters, or a small town of 3000 in a rural county with a total voting block of less than 50,000? … need I say more?

Our major voices in this huge debate are the regional rural economic development organizations and RC&D’s that have our best interests at heart and their own survival at stake.

They use this money to keep their doors open so they can help rural business owners and small towns.  They pass it through to us in the form of microloans, business development services and community development projects. And they need our help.

What is RURAL?

The first big debate which is being considered right now is about clarifying what is “rural.” It seems obvious right? You know it when you see it, right? Not so.

How about this. According to this post in the Daily Yonder, “Define Rural before You Budget for It,” you’re The Grand Canyonlooking at a picture of an urban center. Yup, the Grand Canyon is “metro” according to federal use of county demographics. Part of it is in populous Coconino County!

With battles ahead for the bits of federal assistance that is allowing many rural communities to continue to exist, we need to do two things immediately:

1. Become aware of all the local and regional rural economic development organizations that serve your rural area, find out what they do and contact your congressmen and legislators to express your support of their efforts.

2. Get involved with new efforts to clarify a definition of rural. Read the article in the Daily Yonder to more fully understand the complexity of what would seem to be a simple thing.

Why is this so important? A new Farm Bill will be debated soon in Congress, with the existing Farm Bill due to expire in 2012. Having a clearer, non-agricultural definition of rural will mean that your small town won’t be need to compete with big agribusinesses like Archers Daniels Midland (ADM) for grants and subsidies in that gigantic bill.

Remember the next time you hear someone in your small town say “We can get a grant for that” exactly where that grant money comes from, and how easily it could become a thing of the past.

Chopping block photo on Flickr by randwill

Grand Canyon photo on Flickr by John Loo

1 Dennis Lively March 5, 2011 at 8:53 am

Hello There Joanne!

Very good and very appropriate post, I thank you for that.

I’ve had this same discussion with CVBs and chambers all over West Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Times are “fixin'” to get tough for the little guys first…but actually, they’re going to get tough for everyone in the tourism field here very quickly!

As I say in the introduction to the Tourism Learning Center site, “CVBs and chambers around the country are increasingly being expected to provide MORE to their communities. Namely, MORE visitors spending MORE money. That only makes sense! With the way the economy is rapidly shifting right now, more and more local economies are looking to tourism as a replacement for lost revenues. AND…chambers and CVBs are being encouraged…no, expected to help make up some of the lost revenue. That makes for a LOT of pressure to learn a LOT of techniques rapidly WITHOUT spending a LOT of money!”

I believe we’ve brought this problem on ourselves by being so dependent upon grants. Here in WV, we had Robert Byrd, the king of pork, for years as one of our senators. He was very good at getting us federal money…he is also not with us anymore. We became dependent on Senator Byrd and his grants. Now, what are we going to do?

My approach with the tri-state CVBs and chambers has been to help them understand, embrace and implement a true business model of tourism. BUSINESS!

The ones that have embraced and implemented this philosophy are already making as much, if not more, than they did during their BEST grant years.

That way, grants can be what they were intended to be…gravy.

Great post and even greater ideas. Thanks.

Dennis Lively

2 Joanne Steele March 8, 2011 at 12:42 pm

Thanks Dennis. We’re going to all have to get very creative about building our tourism industries. Luckily, for small towns and rural communities trends are favoring us. The key is going to be getting towns up to speed on using the internet for marketing. People are ready for those authentic experiences we have to offer – no need for much of a facelift to be successful in rural tourism – but we have to get the word out in places where people are looking, online.

3 Sally March 5, 2011 at 5:56 am

Budget cuts are necessary to prevent states from going bankrupt. Preserving this or that old barn, a tourism niche, or an historic site will not cause many to shed a tear when their taxes, jobs, schools, and fire trucks are on the line.
We must concentrate on local. Bring back personal responsibility and pride of ownership. Appeal to the generosity of those who can afford it and to the sweat equity for the rest of us. We have only ourselves now to depend on.
Just like in the “good old days”?

4 Joanne Steele March 8, 2011 at 12:48 pm

I agree that we are all going to have to accept our fair share of the pain. The problem will come for rural areas is we don’t support projects that enhance our ability to create and maintain the industries slated to replace the resource-based industries that made small towns prosperous in the past. We lose schools when population moves because viable industries aren’t replaced with new innovative future looking options. Rural tourism is one, micro-businesses are another. We can’t expect deus ex machina to save us anymore, you’re right. We’ll recreate our towns, one small viable entrepreneurial business at a time.

5 Jennifer Brooks March 1, 2011 at 11:01 am

YES!! I posted on this re: Canada a while back ( ) and it’s becoming increasingly important as budgets are pared down. Good stuff.

Jennifer 😉

6 Joanne Steele March 2, 2011 at 12:33 pm

Thanks Jennifer. One would think that defining “rural” would be easy – you know it when you see it. But is surely is not. I bet if a few of us rural specialists congregated in one room for a weekend with a little locally produced wine, and some good country cooking, we could solve this problem for the big guys in the halls of power!

7 David March 2, 2011 at 1:30 pm

I’d love to hear that conversation! Perhaps rural communities can be identified by the ratios of people, wildlife, plant species, and human-population density. Just a thought!

8 Joanne Steele March 2, 2011 at 2:27 pm

Actually, I think you should be a part of it! In fact, Lake County, Oregon would be a good place to hold the conversation. Or have a traveling conversation, with a stop off in Idaho to help them protect a rural gem from being turned into an industrial corridor, and then head up to Jennifer’s territory in Canada to learn about the special issues and concerns of the rurban fringe! Hey! We could get a grant for that!!!

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