Rural Virginia Prosperity Commission Update
Farm Business Management Update, April 2001
By Karen Mundy
The Rural Virginia Prosperity Commission, created by legislation in 2000, has held seven meetings around the state. The final meeting will be help in Fredericksburg. The purpose of these meetings is to learn what problems face rural areas of the state so that the Commission can make recommendations for programs and policy initiatives to help solve the problems.
Similar issues have recurred in all areas. Telecommunications is a particularly limiting factor. Representatives from many localities pointed out the windows of meeting rooms to objects 10 feet away and said, "See that orange post over there? It contains black fiber. But we can't hook up to it." Black fiber is used for high speed telecommunications. It frequently runs under the main street of a town, but because the cost of providing access to the main line is high, public companies may have little incentive to make the connections. Workforce education is another area that is mentioned again and again. Typically, rural areas have people who are willing and able to work, but these people lack the skills required by industries that might move into the areas. Ed Carter, an Eastern Shore resident, responded to the question of what kind of workforce training do you see needed by saying, "We need to teach folks the value of an education." Many rural areas have an older population a large percentage of whom have not graduated from high school. The young people who are left in these areas may not value education because they have not grown up with the need for it instilled in them. Those who understand the need have moved to other areas to find jobs. Another problem that is also often mentioned is lack of jobs to keep people in the communities or to bring the young people, who could provide leadership, back. This lack of jobs is tied, in part, to the lack of telecommunications infrastructure and the lack of education.
The problems of rural areas will not be solved quickly or without cost. The staff of the Rural Virginia Prosperity Commission, recognizing the need for on-going intervention, is encouraging the Commission to consider establishing a state Rural Development Center with multiple related functions. These responsibilities include advocacy for rural Virginia, constituency building, policy analysis and research, and outreach. If the wealthier areas of Virginia fail to support recommendations of the Commission, the problems of rural areas will not only continue, they will become more acute. The possibility of widespread support is enhanced by staff estimates of the magnitude of the transfer of tax revenues from the wealthier areas through Richmond to the struggling rural counties and communities. These transfers may approach $300 million per year.
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