A group of rural Georgians outlined their policy priorities Wednesday, calling on state policymakers to prioritize rural agriculture, broadband and education.
“We are Georgians who are concerned that rural issues are too often ignored and rural residents are too often left behind,” said former Democratic Gov. Roy Barnes. “We want to make sure these priorities are top of mind for Georgia lawmakers.”
Rural Voices USA is a national nonprofit focused on rural issues. Members of the organization’s Georgia steering committee developed a list of policy proposals they say Peach State policymakers should consider.
Top among them is bolstering rural economies by creating a rural economic development fund that would leverage measures like tax credits or seed funding to incentivize investment.
The aim would be to ensure that Georgia’s agricultural sector remains competitive by embracing cutting-edge developments, such as producing plant-based proteins, said Brian Kuehl, executive director of Rural Voices USA.
“The goal is to make rural Georgia a better place to live and an easier place to make a living,” said Kuehl, noting that rural communities already have assets such as hard-working people and great education systems. “There are all sorts of niche opportunities.”
The group also wants the state to ensure that 2021 federal Bipartisan Infrastructure Act funds are delivered as soon as possible to boost rural broadband so that every Georgian has access to high-speed internet.
“For farmers, processing plants and manufactures, [broadband is] needed to advance their businesses,” said Susannah Maddux, a Macon publisher who chairs the steering committee.
“The investment Congress has made …. is larger in real dollars than the rural electrification push of the 1930s,” Kuehl added.
A third priority area is to address Georgia’s rural health-care shortfall by incentivizing health professionals to work in rural Georgia and stemming the tide of rural hospital closures.
Recent legislative efforts to address the workforce shortage are welcome, said Terry Coleman, a member of the steering committee and former Democratic speaker of the state House of Representatives. But Georgia still does not have nearly enough medical residency slots to meet its needs, he said.
“We’ve got to get busy,” Coleman said.
This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.