Rural America heads for St. Paul

For a couple days in late June, St. Paul will become the heart of rural America as the third National Rural Assembly comes to town.

More than 200 local elected officials, community advocates, non-profit leaders, federal officials and issue experts from the Midwest, the Mississippi Delta, Indian Country, Appalachia, the Pacific coast, New England and elsewhere are expected to show up to talk about the issues consuming rural communities.

If you think that somehow makes this an ag summit, think again. They’ll be talking about Internet access, about health care, about education, about housing, about philanthropy, about climate change and more.

Among the questions to be tussled with: How does health care reform affect rural communities differently? What are realistic expecations for economic development when broadband is available? What are communities doing on their own to curb greenhouse gas emissions? Are there fresh ways to tackle immigration tensions?

Supported by several foundations, the assembly is organized jointly by a number of grassroots and other organizations, with the Center for Rural Strategies in Kentucky acting as the operations nerve center. The goal: finding ways to link people with similar interests across a broad swath of geography.

Why St. Paul’s Crowne Plaza hotel for the first one of these outside Washington, D.C.? A big reason is the plethora of non-profit and community activist leaders in Minnesota and the Midwest generally, says Tim Marema, vice president of Center for Rural Strategies. The state is home to a lot of rural-focused groups, he said, mentioning the McKnight Foundation and the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy.

The federal government isn’t a sponsor but among those agencies with a presence will be the Federal Communications Commission, the Department of Education, the Health Department and, of course, the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“Rural America is big and it’s diverse,” Marema said. “It’s not just one thing.”

For a feel for what makes the Center for Rural Strategies tick, check out the online newspaper it produces, the Daily Yonder. The gathering takes place June 28-30. Find more about the assembly here.

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