CANTON — U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., was welcomed with applause Monday morning at St. Lawrence University’s 17th annual North Country Symposium, where she announced her $50 billion Rebuild Rural America Act,. St. Lawrence County IDA CFO Patrick J. Kelly said, if passed, the potential for that kind of money would just build on St. Lawrence County’s “foundation for success.”
The Rebuild Rural America Act proposes an overhaul of the current federal funding model with a $50 billion, multiyear federal grant solely for rural communities across the country. The grant would address complex rural issues ranging from rural broadband to aging infrastructure to child care.
“I think the foundation for success is already here,” Mr. Kelly said. “We have infrastructure in some of these communities, we have the colleges and universities, but resources to help, in particular rural America, are obviously needed: access to capital, access to investment, the ability to utilize federal programs.”
All of these things would help turn back some of the challenges rural America and the north country, specifically, have faced, Mr. Kelly said.
“The ability to target infrastructure and funding economic work force development assistance to rural communities would obviously be a very welcomed development,” he said. “Anytime there is programmatic assistance at the federal level, in particular delivered with local or regional input, there’s a better chance for success.”
The region sometimes struggles with federal programs — Opportunity Zones, EB-5 investments (The Immigrant Investor Program, under which lawful permanent resident status is granted to a foreign individual who invests a certain amount of capital in a new commercial enterprise), New Markets Tax Credit — where the programs are there but the capacity and assistance to deliver them locally is not built out.
But in a case like the proposed Rebuild Rural America Act, where there is a proposed regional tie-in to the rural communities, it would be advantageous to getting more success from this sort of program.
Following the Senator’s announcement in the St. Lawrence University Eben-Holden Conference Center, St. Lawrence County Planning Office Grants Manager Heidi Ames said she is looking forward to reading the detailed guidelines to see how the proposed bill will really roll out.
“I think any programs that give specific flexibility to localities or regions to design what they want to do and make the money work for them is perfect,” she said.
But the fact that a bill like this needs to be proposed shows that long-term trends are impacting rural communities around the country.
“So we deal with globalization, automation and the challenges that the local employers and local communities face in an increasingly competitive world where there are these macro trends that are really difficult for us to counter in isolation,” Mr. Kelly said. “So when you have state programs or federal programs that are designed to help you advance the local agenda, obviously there is hopefully potential for success.”