Look rural, young people
WALL LAKE — The keynote speaker at a regional development meeting in Wall Lake Tuesday night said the future of the nation is much more in the hands of rural Americans than urban centers.
“The reality is you are sitting on a goldmine here,” said Charles W. Fluharty, a University of Iowa professor who is the CEO and president of Rural Policy Research Institute.
Fluharty addressed the annual meeting of Western Iowa Advantage (WIAD) at Schroeder Hall in Wall Lake. The organization represents about 90,000 people with efforts for business growth and other economic improvements in Adair, Audubon, Carroll, Crawford, Greene, Guthrie, Ida and Sac counties.
Fluharty said the collective approach of WIAD best positions this vast sweep of rural Iowa to compete in the global economy. Potential employers consider labor pools in terms of regions, not county lines or based on Friday night rivalries between towns on high school football fields, the U of I professor said.
And then there is the reality of competition.
“We live in a world now where the cities are in control,” Fluharty said.
That’s changing, he said.
Rural areas will be called on to provide energy and more food, and represent the history of the American experience, Fluharty said.
Specifically, he said rural Iowa needs to focus on being inclusive and creating environments with the amenities young people seek. One key there: affordable and quality child-care services, Fluharty said.
“Your future is the kids under 40 that graduated from your high schools,” Fluharty said.
Fluharty, who referenced conservative and liberal friends and influences in his speech, said he expects rural development to be more important in the Trump administration, even if it may not seem like that now.
“We have a new president because of the rural vote,” said Fluharty.
Immigration is big component of the future of rural Iowa, he said, adding that the Hawkeye State’s small towns need to be more “inclusive” and “dynamic places” that allow for expressive activities from young people.
“A lot of white, rural cultures resist those things,” Fluharty said. “We’ve got to change that.”
Fluharty said the immigrants from Mexico now living in Iowa have some of the best values of any people here.
“They’re all in church on Sunday,” he said.
Fluharty added, “Most of our foreign cultures will simply be an asset.”