Pete Buttigieg Releases Economic Plan for Rural America

(CN) – In another push to win voters outside liberal strongholds, South Bend, Indiana, mayor and Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg rolled out an economic plan Tuesday to reinvigorate rural America by encouraging entrepreneurship, investing in technology and empowering workers.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks as South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg listens during a Democratic presidential primary debate on July 30, 2019, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

A central fixture of Buttigieg’s plan to “revitalize America’s rural economy and catalyze job creation” involves a $500 million investment in regional innovation centers, federal-regional partnerships that put innovation clusters in the hands of rural entrepreneurs and local governments in order to gin up direct, homegrown economic help for regions that are “uniquely qualified to determine how to spur both entrepreneurship and job growth.”

Proposals under this umbrella also include expanding the Small Business Administration’s Boots to Business education program for veterans from two days to two weeks, doubling funding for small-scale manufacturing partnerships, and creating a community renewal visa program to attract immigrant workers by providing federal funding and incentives to bring visa holders to counties whose working-age populations have taken a hit and have struggled to keep pace economically with urban areas.

The 2020 hopeful says his proposal also puts rural communities “at the frontlines of climate change” and calls for paying farmers to invest in conservation and biodiversity incentives, as well as committing $50 billion over a decade to “the innovative research in soil technology, plant and animal health, food safety, nutrition and health, and natural resources the county needs” to promote healthy food for consumption and export.

Buttigieg’s plan stresses that rural communities are uniquely damaged by climate change through reduced water quality and crop yield, harm to livestock and weather emergencies. In this vein, his plan seeks to double the $2.5 billion investment in research and development the Department of Agriculture already makes for advanced technologies solving the problem of retaining carbon levels in soil.

The effort to stimulate rural economies also carries a focus on access to technology and proliferating digital connectivity in rural America.

Nothing that one in five Americans, or roughly 60 million people, lack home internet access, the mayor’s plan promises full high-speed broadband coverage with an $80 billion Internet for All initiative that will join the efforts of private companies with public and community-based resources to establish more ubiquitous broadband coverage.

Buttigieg’s plan cites the success of tapping “the transformative potential of the Internet” in his hometown of South Bend, which “leveraged its dark fiber network to serve as a backbone for an astounding recovery.”

The plan’s technological aspects also include upgrading broadband connectivity for 911 emergency infrastructure, restoring net neutrality and boosting next generation wireless into “more of the mid-band spectrum that can take signals farther into the rural countryside.”

The 2020 hopeful also promises up to a $5 billion investment over the next decade “to ensure an apprenticeship program in a growing industry is available within 30 miles of every American,” and a program involving tax deductions for companies that invest in paid internships for students, particularly those from underserved communities.

Buttigieg also proposes doubling funding for antitrust enforcement and halving the $90 million reporting threshold for mergers to prevent monopolies in rural areas, restoring overtime regulations rolled back by President Donald Trump’s administration, and providing paid sick and family leave for all rural workers. The Indiana native’s economic plan also renews his call for passing a $15 minimum wage.

Education is cited as a key aspect to revitalizing rural America. The mayor’s plan would increase salaries and offer student loan forgiveness to reduce teacher shortages in rural areas by 50% within 15 years, provide free public college tuition for low and middle-income students, and invest $25 billion in historically black colleges and universities and other institutions that serve minority communities, including Native American tribal colleges.

Calling it “time to unleash the talent and creativity across America’s rural areas and small towns,” the plan comes just four days after Buttigieg’s campaign announced its proposal to boost health care in rural America, ahead of the candidate’s upcoming seventh trip to Iowa this week.

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