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Rural News

Problems of rural Georgia easy to find, difficult to fix

Atlanta Journal Constitution | Posted on May 23, 2017

Whether it is the promise of industry that never materializes, the loss of existing factories and plants, or any of a number of other reasons, many of Georgia’s rural communities are suffering. The newest effort from state government to identify the challenges facing rural Georgia, and potential solutions, gets under way. The House Rural Development Council will have its first meeting. Its stated goal: “Work with rural communities to find ways to encourage economic growth.”in 2014, rural counties had just 22 percent of the state’s jobs, according to a landmark 2016 Georgia State University study called “Jobs in Georgia’s Urban and Rural Regions and Counties: Changes in Distribution, Type, and Quality from 2007 to 2014.”In it, authors Peter Bluestone and Mels de Zeeuw found that the Atlanta region and the state’s 13 “hub cities” saw 90 percent of all job growth from 2007 to 2014.The reasons are many. But a key is that urban areas were able to absorb the historical loss of manufacturing jobs by creating new service-industry positions. Rural Georgia simply lost jobs and never got them back. The state’s decision not to expand Medicaid precipitated the loss of rural hospitals, Bluestone said. The state has seen eight hospitals close in the past few years. All were in rural areas. The lack of broadband internet access is another.Automation and technology have killed manufacturing jobs as much as outsourcing and trade agreements have. Manufacturing output in the United States is actually higher than it was. There just aren’t as many humans needed to do it.By some accounts, the lack of jobs is not the problem. It’s the lack of trained and educated workers in some cases, Bluestone said.

Bringing the Dream of an Elite College to Rural Students

The New York Times | Posted on May 22, 2017

The first time Nyreke Peters met the new college adviser at his rural high school, he was skeptical. Other adults at Hobbton High School spoke with the same Southern accent and shared an easygoing familiarity that came from having gone to the same schools and having spent their lives in the same county. The adviser, Emily Hadley, was a determined recent college graduate from New Hampshire who seemed bizarrely interested in his future and pressed him to think beyond the confines of the sweet potato and hog farms.Mr. Peters, a senior, had his sights set on the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, but she persuaded him to apply to Middlebury College, an elite institution in Vermont that he had never heard of.A few months later, to his astonishment, he was admitted. A scholarship fund from Sampson County, a little more than an hour’s drive south of Raleigh, N.C., paid for him to visit, and he decided to attend. Ms. Hadley is part of a nonprofit organization, and a movement, trying to break down the social, economic and psychological barriers that keep low-income rural students from having a shot at the elite range of the American dream.Most low-income students rely on their parents for college advice, and many of them end up going to colleges that are less rigorous than they can handle, the research shows.Her organization, the College Advising Corps, places recent graduates in public high schools for two-year stints as full-time college advisers, where they make up for a widespread scarcity of college counselors and bring their own recent experience to bear on the college application process.

Hospital tax credit hike gains final passage

Atlanta Journal Constitution | Posted on May 20, 2017

Legislation boosting the value of a rural hospital tax credit gained final passage in the General Assembly on Thursday. The House and Senate agreed on a compromise to House Bill 180 that increases from 70 percent to 90 percent the value of the credit taxpayers can earn from contributions to qualifying rural hospitals.  Rep. Geoff Duncan, R-Cumming, in 2016 championed a plan to create the tax credit program at 90 percent, but the Senate balked. A 70 percent compromise was signed into law, but the reduced value of the credit has limited their popularity.  

Rural development— and a burned out bridge

Insider Advantage | Posted on May 20, 2017

Before the ink was dry on a US Department of Transportation pledge to give $10 million for the replacement of a still smoldering collapsed portion of I-85 in Atlanta, metro legislators were criticizing a well-thought-out, hard-fought-for, and long overdue measure designed to help revitalize rural Georgia.The “Georgia Agribusiness and Rural Jobs Act” (GARJA), which passed minutes before the expiration of the 2017 legislative session, opens the door for small businesses in rural Georgia, approximately 130 counties, to have access to much needed growth capital. This need is just as immediate as are the repairs to Interstate 85.The idea is to make $60 million in tax credits available to companies willing to infuse $100 million of capital in designated rural counties for job creation in industries including, but not limited to, agribusiness and manufacturing.As James Salzer of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution observed, it’s an idea that’s been around for decades– even put into practice in other states with varying degrees of success. The prior versions were found to create jobs and produce revenue for those states but since they didn’t produce at expected levels, some auditors suggested pulling the plug on the programs. This bill, crafted by Rep. Jason Show, R-Lakeland, is different. “This is the most tightly crafted bill of its kind in the country,” Shaw recently wrote.And Shaw’s right.Fees are strictly capped so that the available funds go to the intended recipient, not the fund managers. Where returns are realized on the invested sums, the state is allowed to share in those profits.Moreover, where the fund managers get out of line or the job creation targets are not met, the state– through the Department of Community Affairs– can recoup the tax credits.Those entities providing the funding are required to hold a Rural Small Business Investment Company or Small Business investment Company license. And the business must demonstrate that the benefit to Georgia’s General Fund must exceed the cost of the tax credits sought.In other words, somebody’s connected brother in law in need of a job won’t be able use smoke and mirrors claiming a qualified investment then reap the tax credits.There’s accountability as well since these growth funds must file annual reports showing “job creation and retention (a key buzz word here), average compensation and rural impact.”Contrary to its critics, Shaw’s bill is no “scheme”, it doesn’t allow a free ride where no jobs are created, the investment fund doesn’t reap an inordinate amount in fees, and the invested money has to stay in the state.

Rural Mainstreet Sinks for the Month

Creighton University Economic Outlook | Posted on May 20, 2017

Farm Loans Rise to Record Level.Survey Results at a Glance:  The overall index fell below growth neutral for the 20th straight month. Loan volume soars to record level as banks reject fewer loan applications.Almost one-third of bankers indicate no change in lending practices stemming from the downturn in the farm economy.  For 2017, bank CEOs expect approximate cash expenses to exceed cash revenues for 17.1 percent of grain farmers, down from 19.5 percent in 2016. Farmland prices declined for the 41st straight month, but the percent of cash farmland sales remained steady from 2015

'Narco-deforestation' study links loss of Central American tropical forests to cocaine

Science Daily | Posted on May 18, 2017

Central American tropical forests are beginning to disappear at an alarming rate, threatening the livelihood of indigenous peoples there and endangering some of the most biologically diverse ecosystems in North America. The culprit? Cocaine.

Georgia's voter fraud investigations disproportionately focus on rural

Daily Yonder | Posted on May 18, 2017

If Douglas, Georgia, City Commissioner Olivia Pearson lived in an urban county with better trained election workers, she might not be facing charges that threaten her public office and her freedom, a voting rights consultant said. Olivia Pearson is charged with illegally assisting a voter in the 2012 general election and falsely signing a form explaining her reason for doing so. The event occurred in Coffee County, a rural southeast Georgia county with a population of about 42,000. In testimony before the State Elections Board, Pearson maintained that poll workers allowed her into the voting area and then afterwords asked her to sign a form without proper explanation. The state assistant district attorney who is prosecuting Pearson said in court that Pearson was aware of the rules and intentionally lied on the form about her reasons for assisting a voter.Pearson returns to court on June 5 for a second trial. Her first trial in late March 2017 resulted in a hung jury. The charges carry a maximum of a five-year sentence. A felony conviction would also mean Pearson would no longer be eligible to hold her City Commission seat in Douglas, which has about 11,000 residents.

Religious beliefs involved in Oregon pesticide dispute

ABC news | Posted on May 18, 2017

Religious beliefs involving the use of pesticides are part of a dispute over noxious weeds on a 2,000-acre organic farm in Oregon that has attracted the attention of organic food supporters. Sherman County may order the owners of Azure Farms, near Moro, to spray to control the weeds if the farm doesn't come up with a weed management plan by next week.The county said in a letter it also might do the spraying itself then bill the farm owned by Ecclesia of Sinai.The farm, which is operated by a major supplier of organic products called Azure Standard, would lose its organic certification if herbicides are applied.The company has also cited religious beliefs for refusing to spray, including a biblical passage stating that the land should not be defiled.  Alfred Stelzer, of Ecclesia of Sinai, says the farm "made a covenant" to follow the Bible and cited a passage from the Book of Numbers 35:34 that says the land must not be polluted.Neighboring farmers who don't use organic methods have complained that the weeds pose a risk to their crops if they aren't contained.Growers of certified wheat seed, for example, say their crop could be contaminated by rush skeleton weed, Canada thistle, morning glory and white top, the newspaper reported.If the operation doesn't develop a plan and refuses to allow spraying, the county could ask Oregon agricultural officials to place their operations in quarantine.A video posted on the farm's website has resulted in hundreds of phone calls and thousands of e-mails to county officials from supporters of the farm.

Ontario town of 36,000 partners with Uber to create substitute for public transit

CBC Canada | Posted on May 18, 2017

Innisfil, Ont., will become the first town in Canada to partner with the controversial ride-hailing service Uber to provide on-demand transit service. The roughly 36,000-population Ontario town, just south of Barrie on the western shore of Lake Simcoe, is officially launching the service at 10 a.m. to help address community concerns about a lack of transit. "To me, it's a savings, and everybody in the community can use it," he said. "If we went with buses, only a certain amount of people can use it.""To me, it's a savings, and everybody in the community can use it," he said. "If we went with buses, only a certain amount of people can use it." Buying two buses for the town, hiring drivers, and putting bus stops in would cost roughly $1 million, Wauchope told CBC/Radio-Canada on Sunday.In contrast, around $175,000 has been put aside for the six-month pilot project, which also includes using local taxi companies for accessible rides.Wauchope said the decision to use Uber came amid pressure from students, seniors and one-car families. It also followed a June 2016 town staff report to council that suggested looking into an on-demand transit option.  So how, exactly, will the partnership work?According to the town, Innisfil residents will be able to book trips anytime, anywhere. Certain key destinations — such as the Barrie South GO train station and Innisfil Recreational Complex and Town Hall area — will have set rates of $3 to $5.Riders can also pick any destination of their choice, and will save $5 off their fare.

A New Meth Surge Gathers Momentum

Pew Charitable Trust | Posted on May 18, 2017

The opioid epidemic has killed tens of thousands over the last two years and driven major reforms in state and local law enforcement and public health policies for people with addiction. But another deadly but popular drug, methamphetamine, also has been surging in many parts of the country. And federal officials say that, based on what they learned as opioids swept the U.S., methamphetamine is likely to spread even further. From Arizona, New Mexico and Oklahoma to Montana, Wisconsin and Minnesota and all across the South, inexpensive methamphetamine is flowing in from Mexico, fueling what police and epidemiologists say is an alarming increase in the number of people using the drug, and dying from it. Nationwide, regular use of the inexpensive and widely available illicit stimulant increased from 3 to 4 percent of the population between 2010 and 2015, according to SAMHSA. At the same time, heroin use shot from 1 to 2 percent of the population.  The number of people using methamphetamine, also known as meth, crystal meth, crystal, crank, ice and speed, has been among the highest of any illicit substance for decades. But despite the stimulant’s harmful long-term effects on the body — including rotting teeth, heart and kidney failure, and skin lesions — its overdose potential is much lower than prescription painkillers and other opioids.