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Focus Areas Identified For South's Progress
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Officials working to advance the well-being of Southern states have named five areas of central importance to the region and are studying these issues to learn how to address them.
Land prices, national forests, welfare reform, workforce changes and telecommunications were the topics identified as key to the rural South.
Karen DeRosier, executive director of the Florida State Rural Development Council, said each state rural development council submitted areas of concern to their state.
"The issues we presented came from the perspective of real rural folks at the local level," DeRosier said. "We're constantly getting feedback from a lot of different perspectives. We hear themes that keep being discussed from different areas, and that's what we focused on."
The Southern Rural Development Center, based at Mississippi State University, published the research on each of these five issues in a series titled Rural Development Issues Impacting the South.
"Land Prices and the Changing Geography of Southern Row Crop Agriculture" examines the urbanization that has driven up the cost of farmland. The information allows states to evaluate what areas are still attractive to farming and to estimate the money required to protect this farmland by buying the development rights.
"Great Expectations: Welfare to Work in the Rural South" studies welfare reform issues and provides a data analysis of the various conditions in the South that may influence the effectiveness of welfare reform in the region.
"Linking Community Development with National Forest Planning and Management in the South" studies communities dependent on public land management. It offers recommendations on how forest planning can stimulate strategic community development in these forest-dependent communities.
"The Telecommunications Act of 1996: Its Implementation in the U.S. South" analyzes telecommunications policy leading up the this legislation. Results will give policy makers a better understanding of the Act's implications and highlight state decisions needed to insure equal telecommunications access at a reasonable cost, especially in rural areas.
"The Changing Nature of Work in the South: The Polarization of Tomorrow's Workforce" reviews labor market changes, discussing the educational requirements needed to qualify for the fastest growing occupations in the region.
Frank Garcia, executive director of the South Carolina Rural Development Council, said some of these issues have national, as well as Southern interest, but all are current topics of concern throughout the South.
"The intent is to distribute these studies to federal and state agencies, public interest groups and others that make up the rural development councils," Garcia said. "Each state council can use this current research information in as it relates to their strategic plan for implementing priority programs."
Dr. Bo Beaulieu, director of the Southern Rural Development Center, said his office commissioned this research. The SRDC and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service provided mini-grants to land-grant university researchers to prepare special reports on the topics important to Southern state rural development councils.
"The grants were designed to support the preparation of background papers that offer the councils a more comprehensive understanding of these priority issues," Beaulieu said. "They include an overview of current knowledge from scientific literature, a discussion of policy options and explanations of the assistance rural people may need to address these issues."