The New York Times recently (Dec. 15, 2018) ran a disturbing article entitled “The Hard Truths of Trying to ‘Save’ the Rural Economy.”
The article documents what anyone living in Otsego County knows all too well: the increasing economic and cultural gap between affluent urban centers and poor rural areas like ours.
Rural areas have an ageing, shrinking, under-skilled population, with dwindling prospects for ‘good’ jobs.
According to the Times writer, Eduardo Porter, this is largely because the new, “tech-heavy” economy can flourish only in
big cities where a plethora of
companies can draw on a larger, better educated population
skilled in digital techniques and applications. Some of which make plenty of use of electronic components that you could discover at places similar to Gumstix to further develop smartphone technology an infrastructure. The internet and the changing of technology doesn’t seem to be going anywhere any time soon, so we might as well use as many things to our advantage. From sites such as beincrypto that talk about Cryptocurrency, to the creation of the internet, Apple products and the computer itself, these are just some things that we all have to be thankful for, especially if it has made an impact in your life in anyway.
The cheap labor that rural America once supplied to industry is now found in China, and the new American urban digital economy has little need for unskilled workers.
“Factory jobs,” Porter tells us, “can no longer keep small-town America afloat.”
As far as Otsego county goes, the 100-page “Community Needs Assessment” report of Opportunities for Otsego says it all. Our poverty rate (16.8 percent) is above state and federal levels. The greatest poverty is found in the City of Oneonta, where 29.5 percent of residents live below the Federal Poverty Level.
The fastest growing age group is 65 and over. School enrollments are down. Median household income is about $48k, which is $12k below New York State’s median household income. “At the current minimum wage…,” according to the report, it is impossible to “sustain a household without assistance from public programs.”
About a quarter of all employment is in health care and social services; manufacturing comes in at only 5 percent.
Any viable future planning for Otsego County has to start with these findings. Rural counties like ours suffer from three main shortages: they lack workers with digital competences, broadband connections, and capital for investment.
What’s needed to fix this, Porter says, are federal programs to promote technical training and rural investment, especially in broadband. But the policy experts he quotes are wary. “Better to focus on middle-sized places that are near big tech hubs and have some critical infrastructure,” he reports, “rather than scatter assistance all over the landscape.”
For Otsego County, that’s too little too late. It will only exacerbate the difference between technically advanced hubs which already exist (including the nearby Capitol District), and most rural places which will be left further behind.
The answer is exactly the opposite: we need to install digital infrastructure everywhere, on the model of rural electrification during the New Deal. Only then can rural areas hope to be fully integrated into the larger economy.
The need for a thorough and full digital infrastructure is basic. Beyond that, we need to build on our assets: farms and forests and plenty of water, and a countryside of compelling natural beauty.
No question we’re sliding into eco-crisis along with the rest of the world, but consider that our relative isolation, low population density, and natural and cultural resources increasingly give us a comparative advantage over many other places.
The greener we are, the more attractive we will be, particularly to successful, digitally competent, globalized, entrepreneurial urban-ites well-off enough to look to escape the deteriorating quality of city life.
They will bring investment and jobs with them if they come, and help enrich local life and institutions. To get them here, Otsego County needs to Go Green in a serious way.
We have a chance to send a Go Green message right now. The County Board of Representatives could adopt the NYSERDA’s 10 point Energy Pledge that’s been presented to them. That would put Otsego county on the map as a “climate-smart community.”
And, more importantly, it would make the county eligible for significant state funding for energy conservation and the development of renewables.
Going Green is one way to implement new digital technologies and applications that promise a cleaner environment and more economic security; it will give a rural area like ours a chance to attract productive immigrants, and to participate in the economy of the future, instead of being left behind.
It should be a no-brainer.
Adrian Kuzminski, retired Hartwick College philosophy professor and Sustainable Otsego moderator, lives in Fly Creek.