Pilot project focuses on rural development

South Dakota State Roundup

Published April 1, 1991  | April 1991 issue

South Dakota is one eight states picked by the federal government to participate in a joint state/federal effort to enhance rural development programs.

Initiated by the President's Council on Rural America and administered by the US Agriculture Department's National Rural Economic Development Institute, the program is an effort to better match federal programs and dollars with local rural development needs.

Addressing these problems is the South Dakota Presidential Council on Rural Development, made up of representatives from agencies and organizations that directly impact rural communities. Half of the council is formed by heads of federal agencies; the other half is divided between state agency representatives and others who have a stake in the quality of life in rural communities, for example, the Association of Counties, the statewide retailers association and the South Dakota Bankers Association.

"The goal is to make federal programs more accessible," says Bob Hartford, the council's executive director.

Hartford cites an example of the morass that federal regulations often inflict on small communities. "When a community applies for a federally funded project, often as many as three different agencies require reviews before a project can begin. The staff needed to process applications and other forms is non-existent in small towns."

Marvis Hogen, state director of the Farmers Home Administration and chairman of the council says, "We're looking at the whole structure—not just economics, but the overall quality of rural life, what we can do to stem problems like out-migration." Hogen adds that agencies like the US Forest Service and the state's Department of Tourism are not usually asked to look at rural community development. "But all of us are smarter than one us," Hogen says, adding that there's a role for all parts of government and private enterprise to play in this approach.

An example of one issue that the group might address is rural health delivery systems, according to Hartford. "Federal certification standards for the University of Minnesota Hospitals are the same as those for a 23- bed hospital in South Dakota," Hartford says. "One-size-fits-all federal programs just don't work."

Following a week-long training program in mid-March for program participants in South Dakota and the other states in the pilot program (Kansas, Maine, Mississippi, Oregon, South Carolina, Texas and Washington), the South Dakota council should be ready to select a demonstration project, Hogen says. "We've built the wagon, so let's start hauling the freight."

Kathy Cobb