Commentary: Building back, building up, and investing in our rural economy


Living in rural Colorado is a special opportunity that few get to experience. The attraction of the Front Range includes its conveniences and bright lights. However, the attractions of the rural parts of Colorado include the bright stars at night, livestock serenades, open panoramic views, and peaceful spaces. This country boy could not ask for more.

I was born and raised on a farm and ranch right here in the beautiful San Luis Valley near Capulin. Being raised in this environment instilled in me a passion for rural prosperity. I still call this farm and ranch my home because I want my children to encounter the transformation that only a cold, windy morning while feeding cattle and sheep can offer.

A couple of weeks ago, President Joe Biden used his first State of the Union address to talk about where our country has been and where we are going. The President mentioned a lot we can be proud of, and even more to look forward to, especially in rural America.

The President’s address to the nation inspired thoughts of rural Colorado. What does this mean for us and at this time? The country has faced deep challenges over the past year, and the people of rural America know this better than anyone.

Yet, rural communities are resilient, and as the success of rural America goes, so goes the rest of the country. We are in a unique timeframe which rural Colorado must capitalize on. There are a generational amount of resources available which can support our rural communities invest in our rural economy and build up our rural infrastructure for the next generations. That’s why the progress we have made in rural Colorado over the past year is a good sign for everyone.

By investing in water infrastructure, broadband, rural business opportunities and the American food supply chain, USDA is helping communities build a foundation for sustained economic growth.

On March 16, I had the fortunate opportunity to visit one of these infrastructure investments in Antonito, Colorado. Like many small towns, Antonito is facing the challenge of updating its waste-water treatment facility. USDA, DOLA (CO), and the Town of Antonito teamed up to invest in this new infrastructure project which will serve the Antonito community for decades. This is a model project, and a template for other small communities, of a true collective effort between funders, engineers, contractors, and municipality.

Infrastructure projects are key rural investment options. And, so are investments in our local agriculture and livestock industries. Through the Food Supply Chain Guaranteed Loan Program and the Meat and Poultry Processing Expansion Program, we’re answering the President’s call to create more resilient, diverse and secure supply chains.

Promoting competition in the processing sector will lead to fairer prices for farmers, greater value for workers, and more affordable and healthier food produced closer to home for families.

Now is the time for these investments to create jobs and economic opportunities in our rural areas. Rural investments help grow the economy from the bottom up and middle out like the President talked about. Investing in our local communities contributes to a circular economy where the resources and wealth we build in rural Colorado stay right here in Colorado.

Economic investments are just the beginning. In the State of the Union, President Biden committed to replace poisonous lead pipes — so every child — and every American — has clean water to drink at home and at school, and provide affordable high-speed internet for every American — rural, urban, suburban, and tribal communities.

The Biden-Harris Administration’s plan for the rural economy is to make investments now and build it up from the middle out to produce historic wins for everyone to participate, no matter their zip code.

As rural residents, we are always optimistic. We know that our best days lie ahead. I was taught at a young age that “next year” is going to be a good year. The excitement of “next year” motivated me to invest my time now to ensure good years.

By giving everyone a fair shot and providing equitable access to federal resources, we can do our part to build up our rural economy. That means implementing ideas to make more things at home, on the farm, at the ranch. That means strengthening our supply chains and lowering costs for working families. That means giving people opportunities to make a good living without having to leave the communities they know and love.

For a lot of us, that means staying in and strengthening rural Colorado.