Regional planning goes rural in FY 2011 budget

A blog post from Mark Muro, Policy Director for the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program, describes a new effort by USDA to fund regional planning in rural areas. It parallels the regional focus and silo-busting strategies of the Sustainable Communities Partnership.

Called the Regional Innovation Initiative, the USDA explains (p. 14):

In recent years, rural communities have been losing population, have a growing income disparity with urban communities and have an aging workforce. To increase prosperity, USDA proposes to establish a Regional Innovation Initiative to focus on the planning and coordination of USDA and other sources of assistance for rural communities. The initiative recognizes that individual communities are often affected by linkages to the other communities within regions and that working together can produce more prosperity for all. By creating a regional focus and increasing collaboration with other Federal agencies, USDA resources will have a larger impact, enabling greater wealth creation, quality of life improvements, and sustainability.

What does this mean in dollars and cents? The 2011 budget includes:

  • $1.4 million in Rural Development to support coordination of regional planning
  • Over $135 million to fund projects that are part of a regional strategy, pooled from a 5% set-aside for approximately 20 USDA programs

Back in April, USDA Secretary Vilsack testified (p. 7) before the House Committee on Agriculture about the Regional Innovation Initiative. He said:

I believe one model for the kinds of new creative approaches we can take in the next Farm Bill is found in USDA’s new Regional Innovation Initiative. This new and innovative regional and collaborative approach will center on 5 separate pillars promoted by the Administration and arising from USDA’s programs that assist rural America. Major emphasis will be placed on the following five key areas:

  • Broadband
  • Renewable Energy and Bio-fuels
  • Regional Food Systems and Supply Chains
  • Forest Restoration and Private Land Conservation
  • Ecosystem Market Incentives

USDA will work with federal and private partners to develop metrics to measure and demonstrate the success of the approach. Based upon the sustained economic difficulties that rural America has faced, USDA will begin by measuring job development and preservation, along with growth of income. It is vitally important that rural America not only become a desired place for young people to secure long-term, quality employment. But even more importantly, rural America must become an attractive place for young people to establish homes and raise families. As such, the measures of success will be expanded to also track and report on population changes in rural places. In order to be truly successful in this endeavor, rural America must be at the heart of a thriving 21st Century American economy.

  See the USDA News Release here.