Volunteer firefighter shortage • Faster Internet in small town Maine • Montana town sues all its voters • Hindering medical access for rural vets • Mentoring high school students • Great Plains, great investment opportunities
Volunteer firefighters are disappearing in America, according to the New York Times. This could spell trouble for small towns, especially those whose work-age resdients are moving to cities, leaving behind an aging community that relies of the emergency services firefighters provide.
The number of people working as volunteer firefighters has shrunk by 11% since the 1980s while fulltime positions have grown by 50%. The rise of the two-income household, which makes it harder to drop everything and run to an emergency, and the number of on-duty hours spent fundraising (loathed by many firefighters) are thought to be top reasons why fewer folks are volunteering.
About 70 residents in Rockport, Maine, will have a public option for faster Internet soon, as the city has installed more than a mile of fiber-optic cable in hopes of luring new businesses to the area and helping the ones already there.
“The old model of economic development was businesses needed water, sewer and natural gas,” said Rick Bates, Rockport’s town manager. “That model has gone away. We’re hoping we can bring in those new, young entrepreneurs who are all about place first and then connectivity.”
Food & Water Watch’s senior representative, Brother Dave Andrews, is retiring.
Andrews served Food & Water Watch for six years as part of the organization’s outreach to the interfaith community and other constituencies. He’s worked in food and water programs for more than 40 years, according to an announcement from the nonprofit that advocates for healthier food and safer water.
“Brother Dave has been a remarkable ambassador for the critical issues that affect billions of people around the world,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch. “Dave will be sorely missed at Food & Water Watch. We deeply appreciate his legacy—from his years of policy work to all of the relationships he’s built through the years. All of us who have been privileged to work with Dave over the past few years are committed to carrying on his work and upholding his commitment to food justice and sustainable food systems. In recognition of all of his fine work, we are establishing the Dave Andrews Food Policy Fellowship.”
Andrews' previous appointments included serving as executive director of the National Catholic Rural Life Conference.
The town of Montezuma, Montana, population 65, is suing every one of its voters in an attempt to settle claims of voter fraud in last year’s mayoral and town-board elections. At the heart of the lawsuits are non-resident voters, those who own second homes in Montezuma and cannot legally vote. Suspicions were raised when 12 people ran for mayor, a job that has, at times, been settled by drawing straws.
Residents have a novel way of figuring out who actually lives in town and who just has an address there:
Locals say it is easy to tell who doesn't really live there by the piles of unplowed snow in driveways. Montezuma sits at 10,200 feet, 5 miles up a dirt road from the Keystone ski resort.
The inclusion of outpatient-only Community-based Outpatient Clinics (CBOCs) in the Veterans' Access, Choice and Accountability Act may actually hinder rural vets from seeking the help they need by eliminating the ability to choose a local provider, according to the National Rural Health Association.
“Our nation’s veterans are disproportionately from rural America. The legislation had an opportunity to remove significant barriers and allow rural veterans the choice to access quality health care close to their home, yet fell short,” an NRHA statement said.
The rural Great Plains offers good opportunities for investment, says the manager of a private equity firm in South Dakota who was part of the recent Rural Investment Opportunity Conference sponsored by the White House Rural Council.
“There is a disconnection between the positive business environment in the Great Plains, including South Dakota, and the scarcity of equity capital available in the Great Plains,” said Blaine Crissman of Badlands Capital in an Q&A-style interview with the Sioux Falls Business Journal.
Crissman’s Badlands Capital focuses on investing in businesses connected to the rural economy, he said. One key to rural business investment is relationships. And that means having a presence in rural places.
It is often difficult for larger sources of capital from outside this region to efficiently invest in the rural economy because it takes time to establish the relationships and find the right businesses. Many of the businesses in the rural economy are also smaller. Investors from outside the region may be able to find a larger company to buy in this region on an opportunistic basis, but a sustained, longer-term strategy that can scale over time requires a presence in the region and a commitment to the rural economy.