Molinaro Attends Rural Council

$10 Billion Initiative Announced at White House

John Molinaro was on a mission when he went to the White House over the summer.  The president of the Appalachian Partnership for Economic Growth wanted to let folks in Washington know that while things aren’t perfect, there’s plenty of positive economic development news in Appalachian Ohio.

Molinaro, a recognized leader in growing the economies of rural areas, made the trip for a meeting of the White House Rural Council and, on day two, the first-ever White House Rural Opportunity Investment Conference.

The gathering generated national headlines with the announcement of a $10 billion U. S. Department of Agriculture initiative to promote rural economic development.  Molinaro welcomed the program but he also stressed the importance of the message he and his rural America colleagues delivered.

Don’t forget about us, they said, we have much to contribute and can play a significant role in revitalizing the economy, but we have special needs.

The $10 billion U.S. Rural Infrastructure Opportunity Fund is designed to grow local economies by increasing access to capital for infrastructure projects and speeding up the process of improvements.

Molinaro said there is a “critical” need for industrial site improvements in the 28 counties where he works.

USDA has been helpful with projects, according to Molinaro, and the new fund could help with a backlog of infrastructure needs.  Among the targeted projects are rural water and wastewater systems, broadband expansion, and local and regional food systems.

The new fund and the Rural Opportunity Investment Conference are part of the Obama Administration’s efforts to spark investment in rural communities through private sector sources or through public-private partnerships.  And this was of particular interest to Molinaro.

He pointed out that investors in urban centers often aren’t aware of investment opportunities in rural communities and channeling investment capital into rural places, companies can grow and create jobs — a mutually beneficial outcome.

The Rural Infrastructure Opportunity Fund has CoBank as its “anchor investor.” Capitol Peak Asset Management will manage the new fund and work to recruit more investors.

The fund will allow a wide variety of new participants, including pension funds, endowments, and foundations.  These investors have not traditionally had access to rural development markets. Projects may be funded entirely through private sector dollars or private dollars may be leveraged with government loan and grant programs.

While not fully covering the need, the $10 billion start is a good one, according to Molinaro, who believes that national policy-makers now will give more consideration to rural development issues and that’s just as important.

From ASSETS –2014 Q3