FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 6, 2009
CONTACT: Doris Sanchez, Press Secretary
Phone: (512) 463-0385
Sen. Lucio Renews His Call for the Texas Rural Development Fund
Austin, TX — Continuing last legislative session's efforts to revitalize rural Texas and raise its national standing, International Relations and Trade Committee (IRT) Chairman Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr. filed a bill today, Senate Bill 684, to establish the Texas Rural Development Fund.
To address Texas’ standing in the nation in terms of opportunities for non-metropolitan regions, Chairman Lucio authored Senate Bill 1485 during the 80th Legislative Session to incorporate the recommendations by the IRT Committee in its 79th Legislative Interim Report. SB 1485 would have established the Texas Rural Development Fund and provided the means to afford rural Texas communities greater support towards their comprehensive revitalization. Though the bill sailed through the Senate, it could not pass out of the House of Representatives due to procedural deadlines that stalled the legislation.
"This session, SB 684 is needed because even though the state has the largest rural population nationally, approximately 3.6 million people, it has fallen behind other states in terms of resources and programs for this target population," said Sen. Lucio. "The Rural Development Fund is a comprehensive policy approach that incorporates small community, non-urban development practices from across the nation, and will revitalize non-metropolitan Texas."
Mr. Charles S. (Charlie) Stone, Executive Director with the Office of Rural Community Affairs stated, “The agency’s Governing Board and staff greatly appreciate Sen. Lucio’s leadership in recognizing the development needs of rural communities across this state. The six key elements of this bill will provide rural communities with a toolkit for comprehensively addressing their development needs and help us to fulfill our mission, which is to enhance the lives of rural Texans.”
SB 684 provides Texas the needed tools to better address the needs of smaller, rural communities. It encourages regional development, strategic leadership training, the development of community foundations, youth leadership enhancement, entrepreneurship innovation/assistance for enhanced job creation and retention efforts.
"The Texas Comptroller stated in 2002 that 30 jobs created in a town of 1,000 had the same impact as a city of two million that created 58,609 jobs," noted Ms. Donna Chatham, Executive Director for the Association of Rural Communities in Texas (ARCIT). "Rural Texas has lost many opportunities due to undercapitalization of local funds. By establishing a Rural Development Fund, state and local funds can be matched together to bring a powerful leverage to our 811 rural communities that will strengthen their job creation/retention, youth retention and regional initiatives."
Unlike Texas, other states like Utah, Louisiana and Nebraska have established specific funds/programs that are focused on the development of rural regions. Through these types of funds, other states provide greater resources and provide a more comprehensive approach to the development of their rural regions than Texas presently can.
Sen. Lucio further explained that SB 684 "originated from the studies of the last two interims that my committee has undertaken. For that, I am grateful that Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst provided us the opportunity during these last two interims to address the needs of non-urban and distressed communities in the state."
ARCIT reports the following rural Texas demographics findings:
- Texas has the nation’s largest rural population of over 3.6 million, an increase from 3.2 million in 1990.
- Texas' 811 rural cities have a population of fewer than 50,000 each.
- Of those 811 cities, 723 (89%) have an average population of 2,190.
- Of the 231 rural Texas counties of 200,000 and below, 197 (85%) have an average population of 13,628.
The following are key elements of Senate Bill 684:
- The Rural Capacity and Leadership Enhancement Program would assist rural leaders in developing and refining the skills needed to effectively and efficiently lead their communities of less than 10,000 in population. (Per 2000 U.S. Census, 1,005 of Texas’ 1,192 incorporated places have fewer than 10,000 persons.)
- The Rural Community Asset Study Matching Grant Program would issue grants (with a matching requirement) to allow rural Texans to identify community assets, with the goal of leveraging community strengths to enhance community and economic development.
- The Rural Area Regional Planning and Implementation Matching Grant Program would issue grants (with a matching requirement) for planning and implementation of regionally-identified objectives. Regions would be self-identified by participants, but program requirements would encourage cross-sector, multi-city and multi-county planning.
- The Texas Rural Youth Corps Program would develop the next generation of rural leaders by involving youth in decisions that shape their rural communities. The program would work with local organizations to empower youth to improve their lives and the lives of others in their communities through public service. Preference would be given for projects that provide youth ages 12 to 18 with an opportunity to earn scholarship awards for community service.
- The Rural Wealth Creation and Retention Program would assist rural communities in developing community foundations to decrease long-term reliance on state and federal resources. The program would provide supportive services including financial management, strategic development, and educational training. For example, the Nebraska Community Foundation has distributed $65 million to community betterment projects of its affiliated funds since 1993 and has nearly $37.2 million in total assets under management.
- The Rural Entrepreneurship and Business Innovation Program would assist microenterprises, entrepreneurs, and small businesses in rural areas of Texas through the provision of loans for job creation and retention.