Washington is working together to help our rural communities, which is good news for the forty-two percent of Arkansans who live outside our urban areas. When we work together in a bipartisan manner, we can get a lot accomplished that will help rural America, and in turn rural Arkansas, continue to grow.
Infrastructure investment is one way to bring enormous benefits to our rural communities. Not only do smart infrastructure investments boost our economy and create immediate jobs, but they produce long-term positive results as well. The quality of a state’s infrastructure is near the top of the list of factors that business owners consider when deciding where to locate a business or enterprise. Sensible, productive investments in our state’s infrastructure will foster economic development in rural Arkansas.
Those benefits are easy to see with the traditional three R’s of infrastructure—roads, runways and rails. But we are working to broaden the scope of traditional infrastructure investment to also include water and broadband, both of which are vital to rural Arkansas’s future and can earn bipartisan support.
Recently we scored a major bipartisan victory with the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee’s unanimous approval of a comprehensive bill to address shortfalls in our nation’s water infrastructure.
The bill includes a provision I authored that proposes an innovative solution to updating our water and wastewater infrastructure in a way that communities of all sizes can afford. By including my bill in the committee’s comprehensive water infrastructure bill, state and local governments will be able to more effectively meet underserved or unmet infrastructure needs.
On the broadband front, we are working on bipartisan solutions to close the digital divide in rural America. The bipartisan Senate Broadband Caucus, of which I am a co-chair, is leading the charge to encourage President Trump to include initiatives to promote the deployment of high-speed, reliable broadband for all Americans as part of the conversation for our nation’s overall infrastructure plans.
The Farm Bill is another area where we can typically find bipartisan agreement to help rural America. Agriculture is Arkansas’s largest industry, adding around $16 billion to our economy every year and accounting for approximately one in every six jobs, so this legislation is extremely important to the economic livelihood of rural Arkansas.
The current Farm Bill is set to expire at the end of September so I am working with my colleagues on the Senate Agriculture Committee to write a new one that is fair, equitable and addresses the key needs of farmers and ranchers. Programs authorized by the Farm Bill are vital to making sure that, as a nation, we do not become dependent on other countries for our food supply.
The legislation is responsible for much more than just risk management tools for our farmers. The Farm Bill also helps our rural communities by authorizing key economic development and job creation programs. It helps rural Arkansans with everything from home financing to internet access to small business loans.
There is a consensus building around this legislation in the Senate and it is my hope that it will be the next bipartisan victory for rural Arkansas. Working together is the strategy we need to continue to follow to create opportunities for our rural communities to succeed. If our rural communities are prosperous, the entire state of Arkansas will see the benefits.