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View From The Hill: Made in Rural America

By Allison Paisner, National Grange Intern (View From The Hill Blog 2/19/14)

  MARCH 23, 2014 --

Nope, I’m not referring to Budweiser or Whoopi Goldberg movies. I’m referring to President Obama’s newest initiative aimed at enhancing rural businesses competitiveness abroad. On Friday February 7th, 2014, the same day Obama signed the Farm Bill into law, he also announced a new program in which the White House Office of the Press Secretary immediately released a fact sheet entitled “Opportunity For All: Establishing a New “Made In Rural America” Export and Investment Initiative.” The fact sheet can be found here:  http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2014/02/07/fact-sheet-opportunity-all-establishing-new-made-rural-america-export.an 

Among the seven main commitments provisioned in the initiative, to be carried out over a span of nine months and overseen by the White House Rural Council, the ultimate goal is to “help rural businesses and leaders take advantage of new investment opportunities and access new customers and markets abroad.” Obama plans on achieving this goal by establishing valuable connections and teaching relevant business skills. In other words, if this initiative is done right, it can actually accomplish something productive and substantially beneficial for the nation. The highlights of the initiative include five “Made in Rural America” regional conferences offering rural leaders and businesses viable resources available to expand exports, an “Investing in Rural America” networking conference, training sessions in all 50 states for local USDA Rural Development Staff to teach necessary tools to help counsel on and connect businesses to export opportunities, and promotion of rural-produced goods across the Administration.

So what is the relevance of “Made in Rural America?” Let me put it into terms of an everyday situation: does it ever feel like you can reach for an article of clothing, or really anything off the shelf at a retail or electronic store for that matter, and predict that the tag will read: Made in China? Not that this is necessarily a bad thing, but I feel this way a lot. I think Obama feels the same way, as the tangible result of this initiative would be to see an increase in rural America’s sales abroad, with more products labeled “Made in the USA”. While these efforts to export abroad probably won’t dilute the number of “Made in China” products we see on our shelves, hopefully the US will be able to surpass its 2013 record for agricultural exports marked at $144.1 billion. And even though we wouldn’t normally associate “Made in China” products with agriculture (seeing as most of the products labeled such are electronic or retail), I think there is merit in calling for increased exports of rural American products. These products most notably include wheat, rice, coarse grains, oilseeds, cotton, and tobacco.  Back to my original example, although we may not see a change in the number of imported products here in the US, other countries will most certainly notice an increase in American-made products when they go reaching for products on their store shelves.

In this sense, I do have to give some credit where credit is due to the Administration for choosing to focus on the education and networking of work that is required for increasing exports. This means that, ideally, not only will exports increase, but the tools garnered during the process will be valuable skills that continue to be employed in the future as well. However, there is a huge difference between saying that something will be done and actually fulfilling it to fruition, especially considering that “Made in Rural America” was announced not even a week ago.  It’s easy to announce a program with seven provisions that call for commitment to action. The hard part, and the next step, is to see them through. You gave yourself nine months, Obama. On your mark, get set, go!

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