Policy / Rural Revitalization /
Policy

Rural Revitalization

Our state’s Republican leaders have repeatedly failed rural Georgians. Kemp’s preferred approach to the many challenges facing rural Georgia has been handing out billions in tax breaks to out-of-state corporations to set up operations in rural parts of our state.

When it comes to economic development, Georgia is a tale of two states. It is divided into 39 urban–and relatively more prosperous–counties and 120 rural counties experiencing significant economic decline. ​​During the decade of Republican leadership from 2010 to 2020, Georgia’s overall rural population fell from 25% to 21%, and 68 rural counties lost population. This population decline has been accompanied by economic decline.

As governor, I will adopt a comprehensive strategy to revitalize rural Georgia built around investing in people and places as opposed to corporations.

Local Solutions

Different places face different challenges. Local governments, in partnership with communities,  should determine the best strategies for their areas—with state funding where it can make a significant difference. As governor, I will:

  • Expand the budget and geographic footprint of the Center for Rural Prosperity and Innovation. Enable financial and technical assistance to a larger number of local, rural development projects. 
  • Increase and equitably distribute DCA’s Rural Innovation Fund funding. Use uncommitted federal State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds, and ensure all programs improving rural communities’ economic health are eligible for funding.
  • Provide sustainable funding for rural infrastructure investments. Increase funding for DCA’s Equity Fund, using state surplus or SLFRF funds, to provide grants or loans to enable rural communities to meet their ongoing infrastructure needs.
  • Understand the issues facing rural regions. Identify and support community or local governments taking leadership roles in understanding the issues facing a specific rural region and develop strategies to address those issues.

Rural Infrastructure

Better infrastructure will make rural areas more attractive to businesses and to people.  I will help rural counties rebuild transportation networks and water systems, establish broadband internet connections, and capitalize on their unique geographic, historical, and cultural attributes. As governor, I will:

  • Assess Broadband Challenges on the County Level. Identify existing infrastructure for fiber optic networks and assess current Internet access to ensure broad and equitable access. 
  • Equitably Disburse Federal Funding. Work with the federal government to maximize Georgia’s share of $65 billion dedicated to expanding broadband access equitably across Georgia authorized by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act). 
  • Public-Private Partnerships. Create partnerships between national internet service providers and the state and local governments to bridge the digital divide in underserved areas.
  • Build Literacy for Digital Infrastructure. Partner with technical colleges in rural areas to support creating and maintaining broadband infrastructure through apprenticeship programs with major companies, leading to further job opportunities.
  • Engage Colleges and Community Hubs in Broadband Rollout. Rural colleges and universities can be primary partners in closing the digital divide. Churches, schools, and libraries can be used as internet providers for rural communities. School districts can coordinate broadband access and technology for students.
  • Enhance capacity for growth in transportation. Invest in transit through bonding capacity; grant general fund incentives where appropriate; and include transit as a permitted use of motor fuel taxes, without sacrificing our current efforts on roads, bridges and economic development projects.
  • Expand transportation options. Promote economic development and connect more people to job opportunities by investing in long-distance passenger rail lines. Partner with local communities to expand and coordinate commuter rail and bus networks, particularly in rural transit deserts.
  • Increase accessible transportation options. Champion more reliable, efficient non-emergency transportation to ensure seniors, disabled people and others can get to medical appointments, school and work. Promote local efforts to launch community programs to drive elders and disabled people where needed.
  • Clean up Georgia’s lead pipes. The federal government has allocated $95 billion through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to address lead pipes, with an emphasis on underserved areas. The Abrams administration will conduct a comprehensive survey of pipes and sewage for lead and deterioration and establish regional commissions to work with federal, state, and local partners to create accountability, equitable remediation and fast track service to lead pipes in rural Georgia.

Communities

The core of rural Georgia is its people. Unfortunately, our state has historically underinvested in the education and welfare of people in rural counties. As governor, I will reverse this trend by strengthening the rural healthcare system, improving educational funding, and attracting more workers to rural counties. I will do this by investing in:

Housing Affordability

  • Increase the number of affordable units, expand inventory and habitability, support low-income housing and protect against gentrification. I will do this by: 
    • Tapping state funds to develop local solutions to housing needs.
    • Building upper-floor housing in downtown areas to revitalize Main Streets.
    • Rehabilitating dilapidated buildings to provide decent affordable housing.
    • Buying vacant lots or other land that can be used for new housing development. 
    • Working with local colleges to build new student housing in downtown areas.
    • Helping first-time homebuyers with education and financing.

Invest in Healthcare

  • Expand Medicaid, the single most direct way to protect rural healthcare—with the cost borne almost entirely by the federal government. Medicaid expansion will support rural hospitals by increasing the number of insured patients, supporting rural hospitals, which frequently have large numbers of uninsured patients. Preserving rural hospitals, attracts medical professionals to underserved communities and increases the number of medical apprenticeships in rural areas. Medicaid expansion will offer coverage to more than 500,000 additional Georgians and create more than 60,000 new jobs in rural Georgia, including construction, retail, healthcare and services. Local counties will also save millions on uncompensated care.
  • Recruit and Retain Physicians Statewide: Work with medical schools in Athens and Augusta to replicate programs like Mercer’s Nathan Deal Scholarship program, which provides tuition funds for students who commit to serving at least four years post-graduation in medically-underserved rural Georgia.

Education 

  • Increase funding to rural districts: Fully fund the QBE formula and reconvene Governor Deal’s Education Reform Commission. The Commission will revisit the formula’s equalization, the sparsity (block grant for rural districts) and transportation components to account for divergences between urban and rural districts. It will also consider applying a weight for districts serving large numbers of educationally disadvantaged students.    
  • Attract teachers to rural districts: Increasing base teacher pay from $39,000 to $50,000 and increasing average pay from $62,500 to $73,500 will have an outsized impact on rural Georgia, where salaries are currently much lower than in more urban areas.
  • Georgia Educator Pipeline Project: This new program will partner with the state’s colleges and offer incentives such as tuition reimbursements or student loan repayment for people willing to teach in underserved and rural areas. The federal TEACH Grant also offers a $4,000 per year scholarship to college students who commit to teaching in underserved schools. 
  • Increase teacher certifications by incentivizing people already working in schools, such as para-professionals, to become full-time teachers through programs such as the Georgia Teacher Academy for Preparation and Pedagogy and the Relay Graduate School of Education, which can be funded through the federal TEACH grant or an AmeriCorps grant. 

Placemaking

  • Promoting the creation of business improvement districts, which can play an important role in local placemaking. 
  • Attract grocery stores to small towns to ensure the availability of healthy food by working with local governments, community organizations, and the private sector throughout rural Georgia. 
  • Prioritize the revitalization of different types of tourism. Tourism is rooted in the geographical, historical, and cultural uniqueness of rural Georgian communities. The administration will seek out opportunities to situate parks, museums, recreation activities, and arts centers in rural areas and provide technical assistance to local entities seeking to establish or expand tourist attractions.  
  • Develop best practices in zoning and land use. Help local governments protect historic neighborhoods, farmland, and environmentally sensitive areas from uncontrolled development.

Main Street

Instead of paying large corporations to build facilities in Georgia, we should provide start-up grants, loans and technical assistance to entrepreneurs who want to start and grow businesses across the state. As governor, I will:

  • Invest in and attract workers. Because of limited economic opportunities in rural areas, high school and college graduates often leave the small rural towns they grew up in to pursue employment in metropolitan areas. This loss of local talent results in decreased economic output and growth in these areas, and is starkly evident in fields crucial to broader development such as healthcare and education.
    • Update and expand the Rural Physician Tax Credit (RPTC). Include other medical professions, including nurses, as recommended by the Georgia House Rural Development Council. 
    • Create a grant program for attorneys to work in underserved rural counties.
    • Embrace the pivot toward remote work. Encourage qualified metro-area employers to hire rural employees and retain employees who wish to relocate/return to rural Georgia through the creation of a per-job tax credit awarded for each qualified employee. 
  • Build a highly skilled labor pool in rural Georgia. 
    • Provide free technical college to all Georgians. Increase access to job skills and economic mobility for rural Georgians. 
    • Increase apprenticeships. Work with technical colleges, businesses, and unions to establish apprenticeship programs tailored to local industry needs. 
    • Expand college and career counseling. Fund college counselors in rural districts and work with universities and nonprofits organizations to recruit and retain college counselors and student mentors.
  • Retarget economic development tax incentives towards small businesses. Tax credits and abatements, whose financial benefits are delayed, are not well suited to the needs of small businesses, which need startup capital. 
    • Invest in a $10 million Small Business Capital Growth Fund. Invest in small business financing programs that help grow customers and commerce and do not duplicate existing, hard-to-use programs. Develop partnerships with private lenders and support technical assistance and training programs to help business owners start, grow and scale their companies. Incentivize greater private sector financial support to evaluate banks’ activities in terms of outreach, financial investment, and participation in technical assistance programs.
    • Entrepreneurship Learner’s Permit: Establish an incubation program through the Georgia Department of Economic Development to assist individuals seeking to form new businesses in the state. This program would support first-time entrepreneurs and provide education and training for prospective permit holders and current permit holders. 
  • Expand existing Rural Zone tax credits. Increase the number of eligible zones and the amount of the credits, so that Georgian small businesses can enjoy some of the largesse that Governor Kemp has bestowed on out-of-state corporations. 
  • Eat local. Work with the Department of Education to develop plans and targets to increase the proportion of food consumed in school cafeterias produced locally in Georgia. Funding for such initiatives can come from the USDA’s Farm to School Grant Program.
  • Invest in food retail. Work with local governments and businesses to help Georgia farmers sell food locally by accessing funding from sources such as USDA’s Healthy Food Financing Initiative.
  • Increasing lending capacity to rural small businesses. Work with nonprofit organizations and community development financial institutions to create small business lending programs targeted at rural business owners. 
  • Enable farmers to monetize their property through renewable energy investments. Streamline approvals and provide incentives to facilitate the leasing of land for renewable energy projects, while allowing local communities to retain the benefits of cost savings in electricity generation.
  • Create a Georgia Supplier Diversity Initiative. Direct all state agencies, when procuring goods and services, to actively seek out new in-state suppliers owned by groups that are underrepresented in business ownership, including women, people of color, people in rural communities, veterans, and the disabled. Major state contractors will be required to implement their own programs to encourage supplier diversity. 
  • Buy Georgia Products. Encourage state agencies, projects and contractors to buy more Georgia products and employ more Georgia workers in order to support our local economy.
  • Invest in Rural Tourism. Encourage artists and adventurers to invest in and live in rural Georgia through equitably investing in state infrastructure and tourism-based businesses.

Fairness

As governor, I will work to remove obstacles that make it harder for rural, less-populated areas of the state to benefit from federal and state funding, programs, and contracts. I will:

  • Direct DCA to increase outreach to rural areas. Ensure that they have an equal opportunity to take advantage of state economic development opportunities.
  • Expand the funding and geographical footprint of the Center for Rural Prosperity and Innovation. Assist rural communities in pursuing development projects, grants, and other opportunities. Partnerships with higher education institutions across rural Georgia will help extend outreach across the state.
  • Build Supplier Networks. Conduct outreach to businesses across the state to identify potential suppliers of goods and services and connect them to potential buyers in the private and public sectors through the office of economic development.
  • Fairly Invest in Infrastructure. Create a transparent, equitable distribution of federal infrastructure funds across the state, in which citizens can track how and where funds are spent—and who is making the decisions about where progress is made.

Agribusiness

Agriculture is the number one industry in Georgia and deserves equitable investment across the state to expand and ensure its growth. As the next governor of Georgia, I will ensure Georgia remains a top agricultural producer nationally, and simultaneously get the support they need to contribute to our growing economy. I will:  

  • Support the agricultural sector through collaborative programming. Include partnerships funding research and training, technological development and innovations by funding and growing successful initiatives at Georgia’s universities and colleges with strong agricultural programs. 
  • Increase Interest in Agriculture as a Career.
  • Increase funding and programing for farm to future programs for schools, teaching children how to grow their own food and the importance of agriculture and nutrition, while simultaneously building an interest in the broader agriculture industry. 
  • Ensure all school districts have access to career, technical and agricultural education (CTAE) programs. These high school courses utilize a combination of hands-on and classroom learning to expose students to potential careers and can allow students to gain certification in certain fields. Expanding these programs allows students to gain access to lucrative fields at a young age and enter the postsecondary world with greater clarity on their career goals. 
  • Maximize USDA funding to build students’ interest and high school programming in agriculture. Agriculture is the number one industry in Georgia. Georgia must ensure the next generation of farmers are ready to supply our food and support our economy. Programs such as community gardens and more robust agricultural training in K-12 schools will ensure Georgia continues to be a leader in agriculture.  
  • Protect Farmers’ Rights. 
    • Establish legal support for small farmers dealing with heirs and family farm issues through partnerships with nonprofits and local entities, such as the Georgia Rural Center. 
    • Establish greater accountability for farm owners, especially those employing H-2A workers. Establish an anonymous hotline to report employer violations to the Department of Agriculture. 
    • End Wage Theft and Misclassification. Protect Georgia farmers and production contractors from employers who refuse to meet their obligations. We will hold employers accountable for exploiting and underpaying their workers. We will also crack down on employers who wrongly classify employees as independent contractors to avoid paying employer taxes and a fair wage.
    • Pass legislation to guarantee farm workers over time. 
  • Protect Farmers Economically.
    • Establish a 5-million-dollar fund to support small farmers. Get farmers the resources they need to expand their businesses. 
    • Enable farmers to monetize their property through renewable energy investments. Streamline approvals and provide incentives to facilitate the leasing of land for renewable energy projects, while allowing local communities to retain the benefits of cost savings in electricity generation.
    • Give farmers access to resources and funding through the Georgia Green Development Bank. This resource can offer financing for innovations in soil conservation practices, carbon sequestration, diversifying crops and livestock, improving water use efficiency and establishing programs for cover-crop cost shares.
    • Expand markets for local food. Establish food hub networks, farmers markets, and farm to school programs through public private partnerships with area food banks. This would involve additional support for small farmers and scaling local best practices identified though programs such as Georgia Grown. 
    • Ensure rural investment and revitalization. Give farmers access to resources and funding through Federal government programs. Task the Georgia Department of Agriculture with creating a resource hub for connecting farmers to new and existing federal agriculture programs including conservation incentives, cover crop initiatives, and crop-insurance options.
Policy / Rural Revitalization /
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