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Rural News

The rise of the zombie small businesses

The Atlantic | Posted on September 5, 2018

Imagine the farm that raised the chicken that produced the meat that sits in your sandwich: a few workers, thousands of birds, tens of thousands of pounds of white and dark meat, work that starts before dawn and ends after dusk, uncertain revenue, slim profits. There are thousands of these small farms in the United States, and they benefit from millions of dollars of taxpayer support each year. Chicken is America’s favorite protein, after all. Family farms are one of its most prized institutions. And farming is tough business. According to one estimate, a new, hangar-like chicken house costs something like $300,000 to build, and more to maintain and upgrade. “A farmer has to invest over $1 million just to get set up—a lot of debt to carry when you’re paid on average between 5 cents and 6 cents per pound of chicken produced,” Sally Lee of the Rural Advancement Foundation International-USA has found. Even when a chicken-growing operation is established, financial success is far from a sure thing. Given those realities—and given the American love for and support of the family farm—generous taxpayer subsidies seem not just sensible, but vital.  But a government report released this spring calls into question whether all those family chicken farms are really family chicken farms, and whether those taxpayer dollars might be better spent elsewhere. The Small Business Administration’s inspector general looked at poultry growers, and found that many of them are tied-and-bound contractors—so controlled by their agreements with giant food corporations that they no longer act like independent entities. Why offer them taxpayer support meant for the little guy?

USDA Partners to Provide Transitional Housing for Rural People in Recovery from Opioid Misuse

USDA | Posted on September 5, 2018

Assistant to the Secretary for Rural Development Anne Hazlett announced that USDA has formalized an innovative agreement in which a nonprofit organization will purchase homes from the Department and convert them to transitional housing for people recovering from opioid misuse. “From quality of life to workforce and economic opportunity, the opioid crisis is impacting rural prosperity in communities across our country,” Hazlett said. “Under the leadership of President Trump, we are committed at USDA to building innovative partnerships and driving greater collaboration of rural partners to address this crisis at the local level.”USDA Rural Development’s partnership with Isaiah House will allow the organization to purchase and rehabilitate two USDA-owned homes in Kentucky’s Hart and Rockcastle counties and convert them to transitional housing for individuals and their families. This agreement is the first in an initiative that enables the Department to sell vacant, foreclosed homes at a discount to provide housing, treatment, job training and other key services for people in drug treatment and recovery.Isaiah House provides residential and outpatient treatment services. Its holistic approach incorporates job skills training to ensure clients have the necessary skills to obtain employment and successfully re-enter the workforce. Individuals in recovery help rehabilitate the properties. Graduates of the long-term recovery program oversee the job skills training program and are guaranteed full-time employment.

Recycled tires used in experimental paving project in Kalamazoo County

Michigan Live | Posted on September 5, 2018

Thousands of scrap rubber tires have been recycled and repurposed into material used in construction of a local road.  Nearly 14,000 recycled tires were used during construction on West W Avenue from the Schoolcraft village limits to Portage Road in early August, implementing rubber technology never used before in the United States. "Scrap tire innovation is nothing new to the state, however the type of recycled tire material used for this project has not been used here before," Managing Director Joanna Johnson said.  

The Allure Of Destination Breweries As Rural Economic Engines

Wiscontext | Posted on August 30, 2018

Craft beer fans seeking different flavors are accustomed to hitting the road to taste offerings from breweries both near and far from home. Special releases of new and limited-run creations are a big draw, but so too are the breweries themselves. As the craft beer industry has blossomed over the past decade, so too have options for such visits. The Brewers Association, a national trade association for craft beer-related businesses, reported that in 2017, craft consumers visited three-and-a-half breweries near their homes and two-and-a-half breweries within two hours' driving distance on average."Beer tourism" is one label for the phenomenon of people planning getaways around visiting craft breweries, as is the punchier "beercation." In 2016, Travelocity established a "beer tourism index," which identified the top destinations for craft beer in the United States. (Madison was ranked ninth among large metro areas.)

General Mills boosts paid leave benefits to keep up with changing workforce

Benefit News | Posted on August 30, 2018

General Mills is more than tripling the length of its paid maternity and parental leave policies, introducing paid caregiver leave, and boosting its bereavement and short-term disability benefits. The packaged food company announced the changes Wednesday as part of an overall U.S. employee benefits upgrade that goes into effect Jan. 1.“General Mills has been making food people love for over 150 years and our employees have always been our secret ingredient,” says Jacqueline Williams-Roll, the retailer’s chief human resources officer, of the company’s decision to boost employee benefits and align them with the needs of its evolving workforce.

US West struggles with smoke

Capital Press | Posted on August 29, 2018

Smoke from wildfires clogged the sky across the U.S. West, blotting out mountains and city skylines from Oregon to Colorado, delaying flights and forcing authorities to tell even healthy adults in the Seattle area to stay indoors. As large cities dealt with unhealthy air for a second summer in a row, experts warned that it could become more common as the American West faces larger and more destructive wildfires because of heat and drought blamed on climate change. Officials also must prioritize resources during the longer firefighting season, so some blazes may be allowed to burn in unpopulated areas.Seattle’s Space Needle was swathed in haze, and it was impossible to see nearby mountains. Portland, Oregon, residents who were up early saw a blood-red sun shrouded in smoke and huffed their way through another day of polluted air. Portland Public Schools suspended all outdoor sports practices.Thick smoke in Denver blocked the view of some of Colorado’s famous mountains and prompted an air quality health advisory for the northeastern quarter of the state.The smoky pollution, even in Idaho and Colorado, came from wildfires in British Columbia and the Northwest’s Cascade Mountains, clouding a season that many spend outdoors.

The Farm Bill and the ‘Assault’ on Poor Families

The Atlantic | Posted on August 29, 2018

Before the current farm bill expires on September 30, House and Senate conferees will sit down and try to put the finishing touches on a new, thousand-page bill that speaks to all aspects of the nation’s agriculture policy, from farm subsidies to crop insurance to conservation programs. But the legislation, now nearly four years in the making, could be derailed by work requirements in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (snap)—also known as the food-stamp program—some of which food and nutrition experts have described as an “assault” on poor families.If they get their way, House Republicans would impose stricter work requirements on snap recipients than the program has ever seen. Their version of the farm bill dramatically increases the need to work, requiring almost anyone receiving snap benefits, including people with children above the age of 6 and all “able-bodied” adults under the age of 60, to work or participate in job training for at least 20 hours a week. Failure to do so (or failure to report to work- or job-training hours) just once, and they’d lose benefits for a full year. Two strikes, and the penalty increases to three years of lost benefits unless they comply with the requirements or receive an exemption.

Community action plan revealed during massive potluck in Meadville

Orton Community Foundation | Posted on August 29, 2018

Billed as “The World’s Largest Potluck (in Meadville),” the gathering organized by My Meadville lived up to both its tongue-in-cheek name and the community-oriented spirit of the My Meadville project. “It’s not the world’s largest potluck, but as Mayor (LeRoy) Stearns said, it is the largest potluck Meadville has ever seen,” said Autumn Vogel, My Meadville project director, in a reference to Stearns’ introductory comments as visitors began gravitating toward the long line of tables heaped with food that bisected the park. “It’s more than a giant party. It’s a celebration of the Heart and Soul process.”The My Meadville project, originally called Meadville Heart and Soul, was a collaboration of the Orton Family Foundation, Pennsylvania Humanities Council, Meadville Redevelopment Authority and numerous local residents. The project followed the Orton Family Foundation’s Community Heart and Soul model of resident-driven investigation into what matters most to everyone in a particular place.The two-year undertaking, supported by a $50,000 grant and in-kind contributions of a comparable amount from community organizations as well as the volunteer efforts of many Meadville residents, is drawing to an end, Vogel said.“The leadership of Heart and Soul will transition to a stewardship team that will ensure our values are being upheld in our community and that these actions are being implemented and hold our community accountable,” she said.The actions that Vogel referred to were included in the My Meadville Community Action Planbooklet that she distributed during the potluck and that will be available online at as well. After first developing, workshopping and revising eight key shared community values, the group went through a similar process to generate specific action proposals linked to each of the values. Each step along the way involved seeking input from community members to shape both the value statements and the action proposals.

Small Town Leaders

Daily Yonder | Posted on August 29, 2018

If you want good local leaders, look for the people who finish projects, not just start them, says the mayor of Granby, Colorado, a small town in the Rockies. In our series on small-town leadership, Paul Chavoustie shares how the drive to succeed in the private sector blends with the community vision of the public sector.

Making Economic Development Work In Rural Wisconsin

Wiscontext | Posted on August 29, 2018

A major reason that economic development organizations carefully define rural areas is because priorities and potential initiatives in those communities can differ in some ways from their urban counterparts. Many rural areas, face challenges due to their smaller populations and locations that are often distant from services taken for granted in larger communities. "The big deals don't happen often," said Jim Bowman of Driftless Development, referencing major projects by large companies more common in urban and suburban areas. "So it's about what we have already and how to build on that. Our place-based aspects, land and environment are more important than in a city," he added.Bowman also noted, though, that the internet and social media have leveled the playing field between rural and urban economic development efforts, at least in some ways. Now, he said, organizations like Driftless Development can promote the positive aspects of their region to the same global audiences as those in more urban areas.