CLEVELAND – U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue pledged here Friday that the federal government will be a facilitator in helping rural America recover from the Great Recession.
“We’ve all kind of heard of the joke, ’I’m from the federal government and I’m here to help,’ but I want to tell you, I’m here from the federal government and we’re not going to hurt you,” said Perdue, the nation’s 31st Agriculture secretary.
Perdue tied efforts to help rural America recover economically to President Donald Trump’s proposal to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure.
“Every $200 billion dollars spent on infrastructure creates $88 million dollars in new wages for American workers and increases the GDP by more than one percent,” said Perdue. This one percent increase in GDP brings in 1.2 million jobs for Americans, according to Perdue.
“The infrastructure of the U.S. was once the envy of the world. We’ve seen all the things we had. And we enjoyed those things that was done years ago, but we’re not doing it anymore,” he said. It’s time to rebuild it, he said.
The remarks by the former Georgia governor came here at the 82nd annual meeting of the Delta Council, an economic development organization that represents 18 Delta and part-Delta counties in the Northwest region of the state. The Council seeks to solve problems and promote economic development in the Delta.
Perdue pledged to streamline federal efforts aimed at improving life in rural America.
“It’s important for me to note, the systems and the functions of rural development core missions will not change, they’ll just get decisions faster and we’ll move ahead quickly,” said Perdue. ”
Perdue opened the conversation by addressing economic plight in rural areas which during the Great Recession saw almost 9 million jobs vanish. In turn, the gross domestic product (GDP), that looks at the economy’s health, shrunk more than five percent, Perdue said.
Although most of America has recovered from the recession, Perdue said the same can’t be said for rural communities.
“The economy in our rural communities has still not recovered from the Great Recession,” said Perdue. “Today, sadly, nearly 85 percent of America’s persistently impoverished counties are not in inner cities, but in rural areas.”
Another concern to Perdue was the issue of not retaining the population.
“Our children grow up and never come back,” he said.
President Trump asked all of the leaders in his administration to focus on job creation, said Perdue. Because of this, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) will focus on not only job creation, but economic vitality and prosperity in rural America, said Perdue.
Collaborating, eliminating, innovating, and celebrating were the four action words Perdue used in reference to rebuilding the rural roots in the country.
All departments of the federal government including USDA will collaborate, said Perdue. “The better collaboration we have, the better prosperity we will enjoy in the future as we work,” said Perdue.
When he first sworn in as secretary, Perdue said there was a farmer’s round table conversation with President Trump and others at the White House talking about issues facing the agricultural sector.
“Trump signed an executive order calling for, establishing a task force on agricultural and rural prosperity and he asked me to chair that,” said Perdue. “A collaborative nature across federal government of evaluation to determine what are the barriers to rural prosperity.”
He said this task force of 22 leaders will look at problems in rural communities and encourage solutions.
“We’re not going to be your adversary. We’re going to be your facilitator and your helper because we grow rural America again, and we need you all’s help.”
Working on quality of life issues, access to medical care, empower and educate workforce in rural areas are a other things the USDA wants to focus on to grow the economy and grow families in these communities, said Perdue.
Finding ways to streamline products from rural areas to larger areas domestically and around the world is another goal, said Perdue.
“We gotta make sure we provide the time for growth and tools for growth for our communities and ensure the people have access to capital and business development opportunities,” said Perdue.
He said the President has given him 180 days to present a report of confirmed actionable recommendations.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we must stop being a government that puts up obstacles and tells people what they can’t do. We have to be an encouraging government, an inspiring government,” said Perdue. “And not one that’s a barrier to job creations and economic prosperity.”
Staying connected is another priority, said Perdue.
“We must extend broadband into our rural communities to help retain our population and provide real opportunities for our children and grandchildren,” said Perdue.
Producers in soybean fields are using precision agriculture to use water more wisely to serve the crops in real time, said Perdue.
“Connectivity is not only entertainment … It’s using real economic activity,” he said.”We cannot locate jobs in the rural America, in the Delta, without providing broadband or connectivity to them, and we’re going to do that.”
Perdue said he wants everyone to celebrate America once again. “I’m going to tell you how to spell celebrate … S-E-L-L-brate,” said Perdue. He said the producers of America produce, so he has to make sure it sells. “We’ve got a hungry world that wants good American USDA stamped products. They’re waiting for it.”