Monday Roundup: Vilsack at Rural Assembly
Secretary Vilsack at the National Rural Assembly • This isn’t your grandfather’s rural • The pursuit of happiness • Running low on time
Secretary Vilsack will address the Assembly 11:15 a.m. Tuesday, June 25, in Bethesda, Maryland.
Vilsack attracted attention late last year when he said rural America’s shrinking population means that rural “is becoming less and less relevant to the politics of the country.” He encouraged rural residents to get a proactive message that builds new approaches to rural issues, supports youth and embraces diversity.
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius will precede Vilsack, speaking at 10:30 a.m. June 25. Secretary Sebelius is expected to address how the Affordable Care Act could affect rural healthcare.
The National Rural Assembly meets from Sunday evening, June 23, through Wednesday morning, June 26 at the Bethesda North Marriott Hotel and Conference Center. Registration is currently open.
“This Isn’t Your Grandfather’s Rural” – Sociologists have written for years about the “brain drain” that is supposedly occurring in rural America, but the Greatfalls Tribune reports rural areas could soon see a “brain gain”. While automation and larger farms drove urbanization decades ago and rural population has decreased in percentage over that time, studies have shown a significant increase of 30-40 year olds in rural areas around the United States. University of Minnesota Rural Sociologist Ben Winchester said that jobs are not the motivation behind this movement. Instead these newly rural residents value quality of life, safety, lower housing costs, and the slower pace of life.
“Discussions about the future of rural communities can have a negative tone, but this isn’t your grandfather’s rural,” Winchester said. “You look at the numbers and you can see the rural narrative is being rewritten.”
Rural developers should stop recruiting industries and industry work to attract people looking for a rural lifestyle, he said.
The Pursuit of Happiness? – In Great Britain, rural communities face the possibility of radical change thanks to new policy headed by Planning Minister Nick Boles. Boles made headlines when he made the claim that building houses will cause more “human happiness” than preserving green fields in rural England, and says the government is determined to increase the rate of house building. He states this increased rate of house building is the only way to retain the services rural areas need, like a local hospitals and shops.
Opponents, like Campaign to Protect Rural England chief executive Shaun Spiers, claim the reforms will cause more sprawl along the country side that could damage both rural and urban areas. “Housing can make people happier than fields but that doesn’t mean it is necessary to spoil fields to produce the new houses that we need.”
Running Low on Time – Unanswered questions and an approaching deadline threaten to put an end to a controversial energy project in Wyoming. DKRW Advanced Fuels is planning a coal-gasification plant near the Medicine Bow national forest, but they must submit a new construction plan and socioeconomic impact report to the state Industrial Siting Council (ISC) by June 19. The plant, which will cost at least $1 billion, will need more than 2,000 workers to construct and will likely employ more than 400 workers. But the project has come under fire recently.
The loudest critic has been former University of Wyoming professor Jay Lillegraven. “I read the whole permit, particularly closely the geological aspects,” he said. “I was simply horrified by the fact there was hardly anything correct in it. This is information the ISC depended on to make an intelligent decision.”
“We understand there’s going to be a lot of discussion on geology, that’s fine,” said Bob Kelly, the company’s executive chairman. “But the people putting money where their mouth is and doing studies are confident so far.”