18. Arriving at Thriving with Tony Pipa Interview
Michelle Rathman: Hello, and welcome back to a new episode of the Rural Impact, and if it's your first time, I'm Michelle Rathman, and I'm thrilled that you have joined us and that you're giving us a listen. I really mean that when I say I appreciate it. Thank you for the nice notes and letters that we're receiving. It means so much to us.
We are a podcast that works to connect the dots between policy and absolutely everything we can think of where rural is concerned. Now, you may not know this, but you can find us wherever you like to listen, and that you can also catch us every episode that is on our YouTube channel of the same name, which is the only place you'll see my facial expressions when I hear mind blowing statistics or policy decisions.
Okay, to catch you up. Today we're sharing part three of our series we're calling Arriving at Thriving. And the focus of this series is to explore the vast role of local, state, and federal governments in ensuring that rural counties across the country are resourced to address things like housing, food and transportation security, access to affordable health care, mental health services, funding for programs for early childhood development, youth mentoring and community schools.
All of these things are essential for any rural community to truly thrive. Now, in our first episode, we talked with the authors of 100% Community Ensuring 10 Vital Services for Surviving and Thriving. That was Dominic Capello and Dr. Catherine Ortega Courtney. And then in the next episode, I had the privilege of sitting down with New Mexico State Senator and Author of The Sausage Factory, Bill Soules.
Bill shared with us how funding and this is important, how funding to support resources moves from idea to law. And that's a really interesting conversation, especially now that we are in this very important election year. If you've not heard that conversation, I encourage you to put it on your list.
All right. Let me also add here that if you've yet to register for our February 29th bonus day, Arriving at Thriving Power Hour for Civic Leaders where you're going to learn how to get a 100% Community Initiative off the ground in your community. There is still time to register. Just go to theruralimpact.com.
I promise you no strings attached. It's totally complimentary for county and city leaders from all the sectors. I mentioned earlier. So again, go to the website and register for that event. You will find it to be a really valuable use of an hour of your time. Okay, today, continuing the conversation, I had the opportunity to spend time with Mr. Tony Pipa.
He is really fascinating. He's a Senior Fellow in the Center for Sustainable Development at the Brookings Institution, and he launched and leads the Reimagining Rural Policy Initiative, which seeks really to modernize and transform U. S. rural policy. We need that. Tony is also a fellow podcaster, the host of Reimagine Rural Podcast, where he collects and shares wonderful stories of rural towns across America that are experiencing positive change.
Positive change is good, okay. So Tony's three decades of executive leadership experience in the philanthropic and public sectors, addressing poverty and advancing inclusive economic development in the U. S. and globally includes time at the UN to negotiate the sustainable development goals needed to help launch the foundation for Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina.
Very hard not to recall what that was like in the aftermath. Tony grew up in rural Pennsylvania, which he does also talk with me about. So with that, it's a real pleasure again to have you here and to share my conversation with Mr. Tony Pipa. Let's go.
Michelle Rathman: Tony Pippa, Senior Fellow in the Center for Sustainable Development at the Brookings Institution and the catalyst, which I'm so thrilled about, of the Reimagining Rural Policy Initiative. We welcome you to the Rural Impact. It is really great to have you here joining us for our third in our series that we're calling Arriving at Thriving.
Tony Pipa: Thanks for having me. I'm really pleased to be here, and I'm so looking forward to this conversation.
Michelle Rathman: I have been too. I want to share with our listeners, the first time that I have the opportunity to talk with you is when I was doing a different podcast. And I came to know about your work and more importantly, and for those of you who are not watching us on YouTube, I'm going to hold this up, but I'm going to put on the website.
I came to know this graph, it's called a spaghetti chart and you recall the time, Tony, I called it a hot mess. Which I think is the point of your work cause it really, what I just showed everyone is this spaghetti chart that is of the dozens of federal agencies, legislation, rural development, objectives that basically overlap each other.
Great intentions. However, as a result I think that's fair to say that we have a lot of people maybe replicating resources, and that inadvertently creates gaps. So before we dive into everything, just talk to us about the initiative and then go through maybe what the impetus of that was this chart in your revelation that we needed to find a different way to approach policy where rural is concerned.
Tony Pipa: Well, thanks. Yeah, it's a hot mess. We love to call us spaghetti chart. That chart follows me wherever I go. But to start at the beginning, when I began looking at rural policy and federal rural policy in particular. The question that, was present in my mind is, how well is our federal rural policy meeting the needs of rural communities in America today in the 21st century, given the 21st century economy we have, given the pressures that they might be facing social, economic, otherwise?
Part of that was born out of, most of my career has been focused on addressing issues of poverty and opportunity and understanding what's happening and left behind places in the U. S. And unfortunately, over the past several decades, a lot of those places have become rural.
I'm a small town boy from Pennsylvania. I grew up in a town of under 2,000, a place which thankfully is still thriving today, but the place where I went to elementary school isn't. And it's kind of a poster child for a hollowed out extractive community, is a coal community, lost about 40 percent of its population actually in my own lifetime, and is now a persistent poverty place, poverty above 30%.
And I had just served in the federal government, but on the international development side. And I was at the tail end of probably 15 to 20 years and a lot of changes in policy and practice. And how we were making resources available for community and economic development overseas. And I thought, well, what if I applied that lens to how well our policies meet the needs of communities that are facing challenges in the United States, what would I find?
And in fact, the inspiration for that very chart, came from a chart that Lael Brainard, who is, who had been on the Federal Reserve Board and is now actually chair of the Economic Council for the Biden Administration, had done on foreign assistance just to see how coherent it was. And it allowed me an opportunity to trace what opportunities there are in federal resources and where they emanate from in the federal government, where did the authorization come from, where within the Congress, what committees? How long ago? Are they fit for purpose? Where they built at a different time for a different reality? And what could we say about how effective they are in today's environment, for communities in the way rural communities work today. And so it was an attempt to give us a landscaping and just sort of set ground zero. This is what's available. This is what it's supposed to be addressing. Like you said, we have the development objectives in the middle.
And that could be everything from health to education, workforce development, economic development, right?
Michelle Rathman: You know, it covers, I mean, that's what we do on this show is we want to connect the dots to absolutely everything we can, because I have said it often. And Tony, you've probably heard me say it, every road to the quality of life in rural America, urban, of course, is paved by policy. And we're really quick to jump to politics, but we really want to focus on policy because that's what that chart is all about.
And, in the Reimagining Rural Policy Framework, I'm just going to capture this. It says through analysis, convenings and direct engagement with policy makers and rural stakeholders, the project shapes a new policy discourse on federal leadership to promote equitable, rural development with clear objectives to advance targeted evidence based policy solutions that creates the conditions for improved resilience, well-being an equity and real communities.
So, let's focus on that for a minute, because, over the weekend, and I want to remind folks that we're recording this on the 8th of January. And so, when this drops, this might be different, but over the weekend, we did just hear that there has been in theory, I suppose, some agreement about moving forward for federal budget for spending and making sure we fund these programs.
Is it remotely possible given today's and I don't want to get into the politics, but the divisive political climate to actually reach a place where we can have, you know, this bipartisan buy in that, evidence based solutions are a good thing. No matter where you sit.
Tony Pipa: Well, we just had the last Congress in bipartisan fashion passed major legislation, right? The bipartisan infrastructure law as well as the CHIPS and Science Act, both of which actually have real opportunities for rural places and for rural community economic development. There's also the Inflation Reduction Act.
And I think there is a recognition that, it's important that it's not just about putting the dollars aside, but it's how well those dollars are spent. And for that, you do need evidence, right? You do need an understanding of what your return on investment is. You need understanding of, is your program designed actually with the constraints and the parameters that communities are facing?
If we put a major match requirement, for example, on a piece of funding that might take a significant portion of rural communities who could really maximize the public benefit of that investment out of the running because they just have no fiscal ability to be able to set aside their own funds for a match requirement.
The politics with their state government that might not be propitious to be able to find it there. And philanthropy is disproportionately lower in rural communities. So it's not like they're going to have access to a lot of philanthropic dollars.
Michelle Rathman: Mm hmm.
Tony Pipa: So it's that kind of thing. I mean, I think that there is definitely a willingness and an appetite, and a growing attention. I will say when I first put my report out in 2020, getting the attention of congressional members and getting the attention of congressional staff, even some folks in the federal government and in the executive branch, it was a chore. I had to work hard. But over the last 12-18 months there has definitely been growing interest and recognition that rural communities are really a place that need investment. There's growing opportunity, and the role that rural communities can play within the larger context of our national economy, or even our regional economies, there's growing recognition of their importance and their centrality. But there is not yet, I think, a recognition of the uniqueness, the unique challenges and opportunities and barriers, and what is unique about rural, and how to make sure that there is a match between how federal resources are set aside, programmed, and spent to be able to meet the needs and opportunities.
Michelle Rathman: I think it's a really great point because, for so many people who are only watching or listening to very limited sources. I mean, you know, I like to think that people are curious by nature and they'll kind of peel back the layers. And I know that's my reality base tells me that's not true.
So, you know, clickbait headlines and things of that nature. So we do know that a heartbeat of resiliency, I've said in the last episode, we cannot be resilient if we are not prepared, and preparedness is what literally sets us up for success when it comes to receiving those dollars. So we know that funding is a heartbeat of resiliency.
So talk to us about those funding made available for rural communities, that impact influence social, policy drivers of health, community, vitality, and so forth. So you mentioned earlier, we've got the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, CHIPS and Science Act, and the Inflation Reduction Act.
Talk to us about how that funding, it goes from these, great acronyms, but how it goes from, this federal legislation into the states and into the communities. Because you've been witnessed to many, many of those implementations, if you will.
Tony Pipa: Yeah, so we just did a major analysis of those three pieces of legislation.
Michelle Rathman: Mm hmm.
Tony Pipa: And we looked at where the money was set aside specifically for rural communities. Now, there's many different definitions of rural. Let's not get into that, but at least in the legislation, it said rural, right? Depending on a particular right definition. Or there was a stipulation or a preference for rural. Like it wasn't the money was not only for exclusively for rural, but it did say that, we want the program to show a preference or stipulate that a certain amount of the money goes to rural. Or because of the objective itself, it was likely to be disproportionately important or even spent in rural places. So, for example, the conservation funding that's in the Inflation Reduction Act.
It's not stated that it needs to go to rural places, but because of the nature of the funding, it's likely to be spent mostly in rural places. And the broadband funding. Again, not specific to rural, but disproportionately important to rural, given the amount of gaps that there are in broadband access in rural places.
So, we just did that analysis. When you put all of that together, we find that there's about, and this is just on what was appropriated in the bills. There's actually more opportunity that was authorized or that might be in like tax credits and things like that, but of the money that was directly appropriated, there's 464 billion worth of opportunity for rural places.
Now only 2% of the overall money, only 24 billion of it is specific to rural and exclusive to rural. So that means rural places are going to be vying for a lot of that money, alongside suburban, urban, many different kinds of places.
Michelle Rathman: Mm hmm.
Tony Pipa: And there are certain characteristics of rural governance that means that it could be difficult for them to access that money.
Volunteer elected officials, staff within their governments, which are generally just focused on services. They don't generally have planning staff or the ability for people to be focused only on grant writing or only on putting projects together or things like that.
Michelle Rathman: You know, it's interesting that you say that because in my conversation with Senator Soules, I asked him, how do local county commissioners, city planners and so forth, how do they engage? And so in that episode, he talks about, the Sausage Factory and how you actually do that. And to your point, Tony we know, as you just said, even with the funding, that there continue to be barriers and new barriers almost daily that come up with accessing. And what we're talking about is, obviously broadband, food security is huge, housing. You and I sit on a, we know that housing comes up routinely and even more so workforce, healthcare, workforce, hospitals, so forth and so on. So what's your research telling you about the barriers to progress for rural communities to achieve that thriving?
I mean, all the funding in the world, unless it's put the good use in the hands of the people who have the, not just the skills and the strategies and the will, if you will to carry these forward, how do we remove them once you've identified those barriers? If you could talk about that.
Tony Pipa: Well, we need some flexible money, right? So a lot of this money is very specific for one thing. And to your point, quality of life in a rural community is not just one thing. It's a host of things put together, and that's the way rural communities think about it. And they also need funding for things like staffing, or planning, or organizational development, or the engineering expertise. Not all of the ways in which these programs are set up allow for that, right?
They pay for a very specific thing. And so there was bipartisan legislation put forward together for consideration of the farm bill by Senators Casey and Fisher called, 'The Rural Prosperity and Partnership Program,' which would make capacity building money available, like money just to build the capacity of rural places. Because partly what's what we need is, we need rural places to feel like they've got the resources to support the people and the institutions they need to then be able to access those larger streams of money and manage them well and effectively put them to good use.
So, that's a big part of it I think,
Michelle Rathman: It can be daunting to know where to start. And I think I, what I have seen in some of my travels that working with a county, for example, and because they don't have that particular skillset in their office, it's easier as painful it is as it is, to walk away from an opportunity if you don't have the capacity to pursue it.
Tony Pipa: Yep, it is easier. Or it's easier to be dissuaded quickly, to see one obstacle arise, like say, oh, there's a match requirement on this, and so then I walk away, I don't go any further, it's not worth my time, we don't have the ability, whatever . And, it's confusing to identify the programs that fit the particular situation that the community is facing.
So just navigating and identifying that program that makes sense for them. It's also confusing to understand how decisions get made. Many times, like we actually found in the analysis that I just talked about, that more than half of the resources, the actual final decisions are being made by the states.
It's not by the federal government. So the money is coming from the federal government and the federal government is suggesting this is how the program ought to be put together, but then it's the states that get to make the final decisions. And frankly, in some places, depending on the state, like the politics between the state and local jurisdictions can be quite fraught.
Especially if there's racial history there or just different political perspectives. And, in fairness to states, a lot of their vitality comes from at a state level, from their cities. Like, so they're going to try to get a bigger return on investment, and they're going to be directing funds where they think they might be able to get their biggest bang for the buck. But that often means that they don't necessarily stay within the lines that the federal government has asked them to stay within. And that also can disadvantage rural places. And, and then the timing, like, there's a lot of urgency for this money to be spent.
Michelle Rathman: Mm hmm.
Tony Pipa: Well, that urgency is working against rural places. Like they need more time. They're just going to need more time and need more time to be able to be ready to use the money effectively, but also need more consistency over time. Like, I don't want to paint, too broad a brush.
There's a lot of rural places that are growing and what they're dealing with is complexity and trying to manage all the complexity of that growth. And then there's a host of rural places where they've been disinvested in for a long time.
Michelle Rathman: Standing still almost going backwards.
Tony Pipa: right, exactly. And so, both of those places need consistent investment over time so that they're not bringing money in for only one year or two years and doing things piecemeal, but they can actually plan and then execute on a plan over a period of time where it will make a difference for their economic or their social futures.
Michelle Rathman: Well, we're going to take a quick break, but when we come back, what I do want to touch on is I want to go back to that capacity building again, because I don't think it's likely that the federal government is going to say, “Alright you just take your time and we'll adjust our schedule to be what you can do.” So I would like to pick your brain just a little bit about strategies for rural civic leaders to address disparities across the board and how they can actually, scale up to build their capacity versus saying, 'we're going to walk away from this opportunity, or maybe put it on a shelf for a while until we can do that.' Because we somehow these timelines have to match as we look at, we are your report. You know, this started in 2020. we are 4 years later, and dare I say our challenges not only have grown, but they become more complex.
So stay with us. We're going to be right back. I'm very pleased to introduce you to our new Rural Impact Partner, WIPFLI. We'll be right back.
Okay. We're back. And as you've been hearing, I'm talking to the brilliant Mr. Tony Pipa, Senior Fellow in the Center for Sustainable Development at Brookings Institution. It's always great to have you here, Tony. All right. So, continuing our conversation, we're talking about capacity building.
And first of all, I think, I love the term. I understand it. I understand it a certain way in my background with rural health, I understand what it means to build capacity. We saw through the pandemic how important it was for rural hospitals. It's very challenging to continue to be ready. Based on these challenges, but in the context of addressing social determinants and policy, because we're talking about thriving and that's a really big word in your vocabulary as well. How do we view capacity building in the same context as we do thriving? What are some strategies that you've seen work? And then we're going to talk about some of your travels as well.
Tony Pipa: There are a set of organizations, sometimes at a regional level, sometimes at a local level that do have experience with federal programs, understand rural communities. and even understand the local dynamics of those rural communities. And so partnering with the right organizations can bring capacity quickly.
So that's one thing that local leaders can often do is look for the right organization you know, what the Aspen Institute would call a rural development hub, who can accompany them, who can provide a lot of expertise. And sometimes it's not an organization. It could be a person. Secondly, I think, this can be a double edged sword, but finding strength in partnership and collaboration with adjoining jurisdictions is important. And I think, you know, I call it the Friday Night Light Syndrome. I mean, like, where I grew up, even small towns that were seven miles away from each other are sort of rivals. Local high school football games and things like that. But they don't, and they often don't take advantage of the relationships that they do have to say, okay, what can we do together? What can we combine in terms of our assets that make this investment look more attractive? And how can we enhance each other? So I think looking to do that, building relationships, obviously, where it's available with local philanthropy, because local philanthropy can play a large role on the capacity side.
They are the ones that have flexible dollars. They are the ones that understand the communities, they can build a trusting relationship. And they can build that relationship over time and, provide some of the consistency that we were talking about earlier, especially if they are convinced that their smaller investment can be catalytic for these larger public investments.
And they can also invest in things like leadership development, organizational development, bringing in outside expertise to help. I mean, one of the things that you were talking about, what do we mean by capacity building? I often think of capacity building as bringing in outside capacity that then stays.
So there's like a little bit of a train the trainer going on. It's not just a we hired our grant writer, that person wrote the grant, and then they're on to the next thing, and we've got to go find a grant writer the next time. How do we create a situation where the local government or the local organization then has some more capacity and learns from that experience to be able to do some of it on its own the next time?
Michelle Rathman: Yeah, I love that concept, Tony. I mean, we do that with the hospitals we work with. My goal is not to be working, I mean, I love it, but seven years. We want to train and develop the skillset so that when we pull up our stakes, that that individual organization, and I love what you just said about joining forces. Because to your point, seven, ten, whatever, it's still served by the same members of Congress and their state.
Right? And so for them to be able to come together and not see themselves as competition, but rather collaborators. That's a brilliant point.
Tony Pipa: Right. And frankly, we're not like, the United States is not like just one massive economy, a monolith. We're a set of like smaller regional economies. And I think local leaders need to be thinking in those terms and see what their own assets are in, in terms of what their local markets are as well.
And where there's real opportunities for them to complement each other in coming together and doing things together.
Michelle Rathman: So you and I are more than just a little rural curious. You know, this is their life work and so many of our listeners as well. But for policy makers, investors, and those who have resources that can contribute to rural resiliency, how do we, in your estimation, elevate rural as a priority. I mean, what would be the selling points that, that you would say that would be interesting for us to think about?
Tony Pipa: Well, I think rural is central to a lot of priorities that policymakers already have. So, if we're undertaking a transition to cleaner energy to drive our economy, rural is central to that. Rural is the place where wind turbines are going to be, where solar farms are going to be, where battery manufacturing is going to take place, where mining might happen.
But how that occurs, who benefits when those investments are made, and how widely those benefits are shared and sustained. All of that are real policy questions and concerns. And they're going to have a huge impact and implication for the future of where we go as a country.
Take reshoring when we talk about, creating resilience for the supply chain. Well, that implicates rural places. That's where a lot of manufacturing will go. That is where the space is for that to happen. I was in central Ohio visiting, the Intel Semiconductor Manufacturing Plant. It's on an former 800 acre hog farm, right? Surrounded by lots of rural communities in central Ohio.
It is rural places that are central. I mean, even think about quality of life and coming out of the pandemic, how we've changed our thinking about what work is for, and what we want in terms of quality of life, that completely implicates rural places. They have the natural resources and beauty and kind of rhythm that many people are looking for.
And as we get into a more technological environment, and if we can get the broadband to rural places, it means, and the way we've changed the nature of work, it means that people could feel comfortable living in smaller, less densely populated places and having the lifestyle that they like. All of that implicates rural.
Rural is at the central of where we're going or want to go as a country. And so we have to recognize that and be attentive to it. And understand the rule that rural can play. And, you know, I'm an old athlete. And so I also look at it from the, you know, when I was a member of a team, we always used to say, you're only as strong as your weakest link.
And so we don't want rural to be our weak link. Right? We want there to, we want to be taking advantage of the innovation, the human capital, the talent that is coming and the assets that are coming from those places, but we don't want to do it in an extractive way. I think that's the, you know, I work at a place called the Center for Sustainable Development. So when we think of sustainability, not just in an environmental sense, but in a lifestyle sense. And kind of regenerative way of living that rural has a lot to teach us overall. Right. And it's going to be a lot of that culture, that mindset of stewardship and regeneration that's already happening in, in different rural communities.
So I just think that there's a lot that like rural is central, to who we want to be as a country and where we're going. We just have to recognize that and to be honest there's a lot of political polarization that's tearing us the other way, right? And that's making it very difficult for us to recognize those things and to be taking advantage of what that discourse could look like
Michelle Rathman: Yeah, I appreciate you saying that, Tony, because later on this year, we are going to be doing a couple of series focused on just this because, rural was on the hook, if you will. I mean, there was a lot of finger pointing about, rural voters and whatnot. And I recognize there's realities and all of this at the same time, couple of things I just want to mention to you before I'm going to have you tell us some stories is. Our motivation to ensure that rural places have clean water, clean energy, economic upward mobility, good schools and so forth can't just be because people want to move there. It's got to be to make sure that rural populations can thrive as they are. And I read something this morning that a friend of yours shared, Gbenga Ajilore, he shared something, for the life of me I can't remember the title of it. But it talked about why people want to move and don't move, you know, out of places. And it was kind of very rural centric and kind of the grain population, mostly rural. And people who live in rural communities and all the places I've traveled, they want to stay in their communities.
Tony Pipa: Yes.
Michelle Rathman: And they want to stay in their communities and not just maintain status quo or accept whatever is being given.
They want to thrive and that means the things that we're talking about. So, for those of you who don't know. Tony has a great podcast, which involved visiting and still does. And you'll have to tell us about your plans visiting rural towns across America, listening to local people tell their stories of how they are enacting positive change in their communities and learning how public investment and rural people in places can lead to increased equitable prosperity.
Tony, I was just in a community where I spoke with a rural mayor and this individual told me that I shouldn't use the word equity in the presence of some of the people because of the way that they perceive that. And I, I'm certain I pulled the eyeballs from, rolling back into my head, but talk to us about the places that you have been.
And I think it's important for our listeners. You know, this is the last episode in this series. Connect the dots. Rural prosperity, and thriving, what's it look like in the places, you know, what are they overcoming? What are some of the positive things that we can take away from this now? And maybe it be inspired, inspiring to people who say, I'm going to affect change and make an impact in my community.
Tony Pipa: Well first off, one of the reasons for doing the podcast was just to kind of put a pin and poke a bit of a hole in the whole narrative of rural and decline everywhere. Because even in places where we would see poor economic indicators, there are people who are working together to make progress and shift that.
And to your point, people are there by choice, most people are rural by choice. Not because they're trapped in some way. So the first episode of the podcast was a place where I went to elementary school, Shamokin, Pennsylvania. As I said former anthracite coal country.
And the place that I had fallen on hard times kind of been, it was a monoculture in some way. And when coal left, even before I was born, you know, there's been a long, slow, steady decline since. And after reclaiming some mine land, have turned it into a conservation and entertainment park for ATVs.
And are using that to drive economic development in the town that's next to it. And, that is a place that 70 percent of the vote in 2016 or 2020 went to former President Trump. So, you know, thinking about a place that is on one side of the polarized political divide.
And when I asked them about, what does politics matter as they're coming together to create this collaboration at the local level? So we don't think about that. Like we're just worried about our town, right? We're just trying to help our town be vital and to help our town be resilient.
And then a couple of episodes later, I was in Drew, Mississippi talking to Gloria Dickerson who literally desegregated the schools there. An African American community that's more than 90 percent African American. And what she was talking about in the collaboration that they were doing to, they couldn't bring in a grocery store, so they created an online grocery. Converted an old armory, into a place where they brought in food that then people picked up, created a new pavilion, did a whole bunch of economic development downtown. Both of those towns, one more than 90 percent white, one more than 90 percent African American, one, quote unquote, Trump country, the other, strong supporters, strong voters for President Biden. Asking for the same thing and looking like the way in which they were approaching their issues.
Very similar, right? Looking for the same kind of investment.
Michelle Rathman: Mm hmm.
Tony Pipa: Looking for the same kind of collaboration and partners, wanting to do the same things around quality of life, and sustained quality of life. And I think that's the story, right? There's lots of diversity in rural. There's lots of places that are trying to maintain and manage, and ensure that they're doing what's required to be vital in the 21st century.
Trying to access the investment that's necessary. And that just has a really strong intersection with policy because when it comes to rural, generally, in many ways, it's public investment that sparks the private investment rather than the other way around. Because it's difficult for the market to basically effectuate all of this.
Michelle Rathman: All right. I got one last big question for you, Tony. We know I talked about this. We all know 2024, every time there's an election, it matters. What can you share with our listeners and your sage advice? What is in the rural advocate's toolkit? What do we need to be looking at in terms of advocating for policy that provides this like Re-imagining Rural Policy.
What are our advocates out there? And a lot of people don't think that their voice matters, but I'm here to tell you that's not true. Your phone calls, your letters, your queries, showing up at events. What are some of the questions that you think, and what are some of the tools that advocates need to be prepared with this year to make informed decisions?
Tony Pipa: Yeah, so one, it is to drill into what kind of policy proposals, how will they meet the needs of rural communities, not just communities or people in general. And there are a set of issues, some of which we've already talked about, broadband, right, housing, most people, very underreported, and most people don't realize there's as much of a housing crisis in rural places as there might be in large cities, right?
Michelle Rathman: It just looks a little bit different, but it's there.
Tony Pipa: Yep, it looks different, but it is there. Health care and the huge pressure on rural hospitals and health clinics and the delivery of health care. So those things that we think of as key components for creating the skeleton of a healthy community.
Michelle Rathman: Mm-Hmm.
Tony Pipa: Those institutions are under real pressure in rural communities.
As we have more of a consolidated model or centralized capital model, and we need to look for ways in which that gets out to smaller communities, that communities have a degree of control and decision making over the investments that can come in and apply the solutions that they need. But looking at those kinds of issues, you know, broadband, housing, health, the quality of life issues, and then that capacity building and making sure that I mean there's a whole host of other things I would say.
I mean, one thing we haven't talked about that was part of that initial report was, there's no real mechanism within the federal government when a policy is being made for someone to ask the question, how might this affect a smaller community? And there are policy proposals that could happen internally as well, that rural people could be thinking about.
But I also love the fact that so, for example, the Right to Repair Movement, which, lots of people now think about, like, you know, my Apple iPhone and things like that. That's a rural issue that started with rural folks. It was about, farming equipment and it has caught fire now and become a much bigger policy issue. But people have rural folks to thank for that, basically.
Michelle Rathman: that's
Tony Pipa: Um,
Michelle Rathman: And I am encouraged as you probably are that we've seen more rural offices within bigger offices. You know, we have our first, what is it? Well, in CDC, we have our first Rural Office. We've got, of course, the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy, which has been around, but I'm sure you could tell us that there are.
Tony Pipa: We've got the Rural Partners Network that is in 10 different states. You have State Offices of Rural Prosperity now. Seeing that more and more. It's not in all 50 states, but, you know, Michigan, Wisconsin, Maryland. And I do think that while everything's continues to be imperfect, I think even the Biden Administration's intentional placing of rural and underserved rural communities in certain executive orders around equity. So seeing geographic equity as part of equity, not just racial equity or other types of equity, is really important. And that's something for rural people to press on in this election.
Although I will say that I'm not sure policy is going to be the thing that gets the most focus in this election.
Michelle Rathman: Then then don't listen to us because that's what we are going to be talking about. And Tony, I gotta tell you, I am a super fan of your work. I really do mean that. I follow you closely. And if you're not following Tony, I really encourage you go to the Brookings Institution website, read about, you know, anything he writes, I guarantee you is going to be worth your time. So please come back anytime that you've got something you think is important for us to connect these dots between policy and the things that we're talking about. It's been a real privilege to have you here, Tony. Thank you so much.
Tony Pipa: I so enjoyed this conversation and I really appreciate the opportunity to be here. Thanks.
Michelle Rathman: Well, thank you and before we close out, I just want to send out a personal invitation. Just switching gears a little bit. If you're a rural health leader or on a team I would invite you to join me at the WIPFLI 2024 Rural Solutions Conference. I love that that's the name of it because we all know about the problems. We talk about them every day.
We'll be in Nashville on April 9th and 10th. I'm so excited to join them as the event emcee. And we'll be recording a very special Rural Impact Episode with an outstanding panel of rural hospital CEOs. And they're really going to give you a lay of the land at what it's like to keep the doors of a critical access hospital open today.
And that is no easy feat. So you can learn all about that at WIPFLI.com.
Lastly, I really great big, special thanks to the mighty Rural Impact team, Brea Corsaro, our Associate Producer, Sarah Staub, she manages all the production and a shout out to Jona Mancino for our fabulous original music. You're not going to find canned music on this podcast.
We have got a great music studio here. And for all of you. We encourage you to keep your eye out on this Arriving at Thriving Series and we hope it's enlightened you because you know we say these are not light subjects. Our goal is here to enlighten and potentially inspire you to make the place where you call rural home a better place for living, better quality of life.
So take good care and we're going to talk to you the next time on a brand new series of The Rural Impact.