Rural Policy

 

The Rural Center works with statewide partners to develop a joint vision for the long-range future of rural North Carolina and to shape and advocate for policies to achieve that future. Among recent initiatives:


Fighting for clean water
Strengthening small towns
Promoting economic growth through entrepreneurship
Opening doors for dislocated workers
Documenting North Carolina’s equine industry
Crafting a drought recovery program for agriculture
Supporting development of the biofuels industry
Presenting an overall vision for the future


Fighting for clean water
The Rural Center has been a consistent leader in developing programs and pursuing policies to ensure that rural communities have adequate access to clean water and the wastewater treatment systems that protect public health and the environment.

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Water 2030, a multi-year initiative that concluded in 2006, produced extensive information on the state's public infrastructure and water supply and engendered thoughtful discussions about North Carolina's water future. It identified $16.63 billion in improvements needed for water, sewer and stormwater systems statewide to keep pace with a growing population, repair and replace old lines and equipment, and meet new environmental regulations. In response, the N.C. General Assembly created the Clean Water Partners Infrastructure Program and appropriated $150 million over two years to help economically distressed rural communities meet critical water and sewer needs. The center continues to advocate on behalf of those communities.


Water 2030 grew out of the the Rural Center's earlier work on water and sewer infrastructure issues. Initial studies led to the creation of a grant program to help low-income communities meet matching requirements for state and federal programs that finance water and sewer construction. Then in 1998, the center released the results of a three-year investigation that revealed $11.3 billion in needed water and sewer system improvements statewide. This was based on an in-depth assessment of 659 water and sewer systems in 75 predominantly rural counties and projections for the remaining 25 counties. The center’s investigation gave impetus to the passage of the North Carolina Clean Water Bond Act of 1998, which provided $800 million for local water and sewer projects. The center also commissioned two major studies in 2002 that provided direction for 11 eastern counties seeking alternatives to continued reliance on dwindling aquifers.
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Strengthening small towns

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The center’s Small Towns Initiative, launched in 2005, has taken a multifaceted approach to strengthening North Carolina’s small towns. Efforts have targeted improving the capacity of local communities to plan and implement initiatives, stimulating job-creating investments and developing public policy recommendations. The centerpiece of the public policy role, the Small Towns Action Agenda, was released in March 2009. It is a 17-point plan to help small towns bolster their fiscal capacity and build their economies. Among other recommendations, it calls for the creation of a state Office of Small Town Development, to coordinate state programs that affect small towns and to serve as a clearinghouse for small towns seeking information and assistance.

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Promoting economic growth through entrepreneurship

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From its earliest days, the Rural Center has addressed the critical importance of small and growing businesses to the economy of rural North Carolina. The creation of the Institute for Rural Entrepreneurship, in October 2004, has strengthened our ability to focus state and local attention on the economic potential in entrepreneurship and on developing strategies for supporting entrepreneurs and small business owners. Working with partners, the center also helped craft an action agenda to make North Carolina the nation’s leading entrepreneurial state. The agenda was released in 2007 at the second statewide Entrepreneurship Summit.

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Opening doors for dislocated workers

The Rural Center launched the Rural Dislocated Worker Initiative in January 2004 to address critical problems caused by layoffs and plants closings in North Carolina communities. For too many North Carolinians, these job losses have resulted in prolonged unemployment and reduced earnings. As part of the initiative, the center and partnering agencies released the Dislocated Workers Action Agenda, a set of 10 recommendations to address problems facing dislocated workers. The agenda continues to reshape North Carolina's response to worker dislocation, its causes and consequences through research, demonstration projects and public policy development. A second report, Back on Track: 16 Promising Practices to Help Dislocated Workers, Businesses and Communities, describes some of the more successful programs helping workers find new jobs at decent wages. The center also has conducted demonstration programs testing other innovative strategies.

 

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Documenting North Carolina’s equine industry
At the request of the N.C. General Assembly, the Rural Center’s Agricultural Advancement Consortium led a study of the state’s equine industry, documenting its economic impact and identifying opportunities for growth. The study identified nearly $2 billion in annual economic. In addition, almost 20,000 jobs were linked directly or indirectly to the industry. The findings were released in May 2009. Among the leading recommendations were the establishment of an independent equine industry commission and additional investments in existing equine facilities. The Agricultural Advancement Consortium administered the study with the help of university, government and private consultants. Oversight was provided by the Equine Study Executive Committee, whose seven members included ties to the horse industry, agriculture and rural development. Read the full report.
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Crafting a drought recovery program for agriculture

 

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The Rural Center played a leading role in developing the N.C. Agriculture Drought Recovery Program in response to the statewide drought of 2007-08. The center and the Agricultural Advancement Consortium worked with the General Assembly’s Joint Select Committee on Agricultural Drought Response, the Tobacco Trust Fund Commission, several state agencies and other agricultural interests to design the program. Over three years, the cost-share program helped nearly 7,000 farmers repair drought-damaged pastureland and provide additional water supply for livestock and crops. It was administered statewide through local Soil and Water Conservation district offices and was made possible by a $6 million grant from the N.C. Tobacco Trust Fund Commission and $1.5 million from the N.C. General Assembly.

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Supporting development of the biofuels industry

The Rural Center – in conjunction with its Agricultural Advancement Consortium – served as one of five organizations leading the development of North Carolina’s strategic plan for building a strong biofuels industry. The plan, presented to the General Assembly April 1, 2007, outlined nine strategies for increasing production of agricultural feedstocks, developing biofuels production capacity, creating market demand, and encouraging research and development.

In response to the strategic plan, the legislature appropriated $5 million for the creation of the North Carolina Biofuels Center. The Biofuels Center was established as a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization with the Rural Center president as a member of the board of directors. The center officially opened in May 2008 in Oxford, in a facility provided by the N.C. Department of Agriculture.
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Presenting an overall vision for the future
In 1999, the Rural Center undertook a comprehensive examination of the state of rural North Carolina. Choices for a New Century documented the results of that examination. It reported on the sweeping economic changes taking place and the challenges they posed for rural people and communities. It also presented 26 recommendations for state and local action.

 


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