Ag secretary touts rural initiatives

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack (center white shirt) listens to President Barack Obama speaking at Northeast Iowa Community College during a White House Rural Economic Forum on Aug. 16. (USDA photo by Lance Cheung)

President Barack Obama was in Iowa today (Aug. 16) talking about new initiatives that he’s pushing to help rural America. These include expanding public-private partnerships and doubling capital available for small businesses through the Small Business Administration.

I was able to talk this morning with U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who was with the president in Iowa promoting the administration’s plans. I asked him first about the White House Rural Council and its recent report on rural America, "Jobs and Economic Security for Rural America," which you can click here to read.

The administration is highlighting these initiatives, among others:

•  Conferences to help connect private equity and venture capital investors with rural start-ups. And, the administration plans to use “marketing teams” to go out and pitch federal grant money to private investors. 

• The U.S. Department of Agriculture access to the Labor Department job search tools at its 2,800 field offices nationwide. 

• Modifications to the National Health Service Corps loan repayment program to allow more than 1,300 small, rural hospitals to recruit new physicians.

Listen to the full interview with Vilsack, edited for clarity:

[swf file="Vilsack_rural.mp3"params="wmode=transparent"]

My discussion with Vilsack touched on these efforts, but we also spoke about  food deserts and the upcoming debate over the 2012 farm bill.

“What I can say about the farm safety net is that it’s fairly clear it’s going to be different than it was in the past," he said. "But it still needs to be recognized as extremely important."