INVESTING IN SUSTAINABLE RURAL DEVELOPMENT
Hardworking rural Americans still produce much of the raw materials that the US depends on, from food and fiber to energy. But as rural anchor industries like manufacturing, mining, and timber have declined, well-paying jobs in rural communities have dwindled too, with big impacts on small towns and counties across the country. Fortunately, a changing world offers new opportunities. There are many ways policymakers can support these opportunities to put rural Americans back to work, so they can get back to the important work of investing in their communities.
Building rural economies for the long-term requires more than creating new jobs. It also requires the growth of sectors that will keep money in the pockets of local people. Locally-based businesses return two to three times as much money into the local economy as chain companies. Small and cooperative businesses, regional food economies, and value-add crops like hemp are just a few areas where state investment and policy support can have big returns – in the form of shared prosperity across rural communities. Armed with bold solutions, implementation skills, and the tools and opportunities to succeed, rural Americans are ready to work hard to ensure their communities thrive.
Framing: entrepreneurship, stability, respect
As policymakers, we aim to unite communities across our shared values. Advocating for sustainable development of rural communities is a top priority. The values of entrepreneurship, stability, and respect are powerful because these values are deeply held by hardworking rural Americans regardless of where they live or what they look like.
With the support of policy priorities that address sustainable rural development like those below, local communities will have what they need to solve local problems. Opposition continues to talk at families and purposely divide communities; we are forging a new path to ensure legislators are speaking with families and unite communities. By using effective communication strategies, we can neutralize inflammatory language, unite our coalitions, and pass the policies we all need.
USE SHARED RURAL VALUES TO CRAFT YOUR MESSAGE
Effective communication requires not only facts but leveraging the values people share to resonate across race, class, age, gender, and place. The best messages follow the VPSA model: Values, Problem, Solution, Action. First, we unite along shared values to introduce the issue, then demonstrate the collectively-held problem, name the solution to the problem, and finally, when appropriate, leave with a call to action joining you to solve the problem. This formula keeps our messages concise while disarming opponents who seek to divide us. To get you started, here are three rural values that are particularly relevant for communicating with rural constituents about sustainable rural development:
- Framing: Rural Americans value entrepreneurship because it represents a path to self-sufficiency and independence. In many rural communities, economic opportunities may be limited and jobs may be scarce. Starting a business can offer a way for people to create their own opportunities and take control of their financial future. Entrepreneurship increases local spending and can create jobs, with an increased local multiplier effect. Rural Americans also often have a strong sense of community and want to buy from their neighbors.
- Example Statement: (Value) Rural people are self-starters and local businesses are the lifeblood of our hometowns. (Problem) But for decades, big chain stores and global companies have undercut prices at Main Street stores, driving them out of business and creating barriers for new entrepreneurs. (Solution) We must level the playing field for local business owners. (Action) This is where my Startup Accelerator Act comes in. It is a comprehensive program to provide aspiring entrepreneurs with resources and support to start and grow successful businesses in rural communities.
- Example Talking Points:
- The growing cannabis industry offers opportunities for rural entrepreneurs. Unfortunately, strict federal testing regulations on THC concentrations in hemp can severely limit hemp business endeavors. Expanding the window for this testing will boost entrepreneurship and create new jobs, particularly in regions where traditional industries are declining.
- Greater investments in Community Development Financial Institutions helps even the smallest local businesses access the capital they need to grow and prosper.
- Framing: Rural Americans value stability because it provides a sense of security and predictability in their daily lives. Many rural communities are small and close-knit, with residents relying on each other for support, no matter their religion or political beliefs. Stability in key areas such as the economy and local institutions is essential to maintaining a sense of order, connection to traditions, and allowing hardworking families to plan for the future.
- Example Statement: (Value) Americans count on well-stocked grocery store shelves when they stop in at the end of a long day. (Problem) The COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated the fragility of the food supply chain and left working families struggling to find basic necessities. (Solution) Investments in the regional food system will provide working families with more stable access to healthy and affordable food while expanding markets for local farmers and producers. (Action) That’s why I am working to expand our state’s Double Up Food Bucks program, allowing people to use their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits at farmers markets.
- Example Talking Points:
- To balance economic growth with community stability, the benefits of development must be shared fairly among all community members. We can require recipients of economic development incentives to enter into community benefits agreements to promote sustainable, long-term economic growth for shared prosperity.
- Our Rural Grocery Store Grant Program takes a head-on approach to addressing food insecurity in small towns by providing residents with access to healthy and affordable food options while also supporting local businesses and the economy.
- Framing: All Americans, no matter where they are from or what their background, expect respect for their work and contributions to their communities. Rural Americans are no different, taking pride in caring for their neighbors and respecting everyone’s contributions. Mutual respect fosters the trust and cooperation that are essential to close-knit rural relationships. Respect for hard work is deeply ingrained in rural culture and essential to building and maintaining strong communities.
- Example Statement: (Value) In rural America, we respect hard work. (Problem) But these days, many of the companies providing jobs in rural communities expect their employees to work for near-poverty wages on inconsistent schedules. Big corporations doing business in rural areas expect residents not to care that they have driven Main Street stores out of business. (Solution) We need more local employers who are invested in and respect our local community. Worker-owned cooperative businesses provide employee/owners control over their own work, along with transparency on pay and schedules. (Action) That’s why I am working to create a State Employee Ownership Center that will provide resources and support for new and existing worker cooperatives. By providing the tools for rural workers to run their own businesses, we build stronger communities that respect everyone’s hard work.
- Example Talking Points:
- Rural Americans work hard and expect their contributions to be respected. Worker-owned businesses provide the ultimate respect for work. Investment in these businesses can provide good jobs and contribute to small town economies.
In practice: Media getting it right
Op-Ed | A Policy Renaissance Is Needed for Rural America to Thrive, 2022
- WHAT WE LIKE
- This op-ed discusses the need for coordinated rural policies rather than today’s piecemeal approach. It broadens the rural discussion to include the need for investment in educators and healthcare workers, and points out how diverse rural America is.
- The author argues that piecemeal approaches, or “tweaking around the edges,” will not work, just as they haven’t worked for a long time. The author connects deep-seeded community needs to large-scale policy changes in a way that can compel an audience to become politically motivated, specifically for progressive legislative investments.
- MOVING FORWARD:
- Rural people do not all share the same ideas of what their communities need, but we can connect on shared values: people want to feel hopeful about their future, care for their families, and live in a place they are proud to call home.
Op-Ed | Rural Communities Need Support to Keep Wisconsin Strong, 2021
- WHAT WE LIKE:
- The author uses the VPSA model throughout, naming shared values and shared identities, and following with the problems that threaten those values. They then list examples of solutions they see improving their rural communities. While there is not an explicit call to action at the end, they close with a question to rural constituents.
- MOVING FORWARD:
- We can’t assume shared identities share the same values. Rather than leaning on identities such as, “farmer,” “teacher,” or “advocate,” be specific in the characteristics and values that make those identities relatable to others.
If you have questions or feedback about these communications guides, please be in touch with the SiX Agriculture and Food Systems Team. We love to hear from you!