By Ryan Whitehouse
Source: Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity
Economic development is always on the mind of rural America, but with the new challenge of COVID19, agriculture has a role. And this role starts with the local
county Farm Bureau®.
The task of building a rural economy usually lies with local government and community organizations.
It may be an individual Economic Development Council, associated with the Chamber of Commerce or the duty of a unit of local government to be the lead, but other partners must participate.
I write this article from a perspective of representing Illinois Farm Bureau on the local Economic Development Council in McLean County. This role is new but very serious. My goal is to make sure agriculture is present in conversations, and the community recognizes our industry as an economic engine and job creator. Here lies a perfect opportunity for your county Farm Bureau.
The question is, how can we make sure agriculture receives credit for the value it provides? Our neighbors see it every day, and our business leaders do not always recognize the importance of agriculture, but with involvement, this can change.
IFB is encouraging county Farm Bureau engagement in economic development. Volunteer to serve on a board, be a resource for in formation and share the story of what agriculture provides financially, including taxes collected and jobs created. When elected officials and business leaders are developing a forward-looking economic plan, agriculture should be at the table to make sure it’s a part of the program.
How can your county Farm Bureau engage? I will provide a few examples of where you can participate. Below are some tools units of local government have at their disposal to help businesses succeed.
- Revolving Loan Fund: these provide financial assistance to new or expanding businesses.
- Enterprise Zones: these defined zones allow a variety of tax benefits – from building materials to investment tax credits to jobs.
- TIF District (Tax Increment Financing): this allows units of local governments to designate areas within the jurisdiction as TIF districts. The districts funnel additional property tax revenue generated from property improvements back into the TIF district. This can provide incentives for new economic development and job creations.
These tools can be controversial. Local county Farm Bureaus have the job to understand these specific tools and advocate for how they can function within the county and their impact on agriculture. It is up to you to decide whether these tools might be beneficial in a project.
Engaging in local economic development will also provide an opportunity for local policy development.
IFB policy states our organization's opinions on state and federally regulated areas. However, there are intentional blanks when dealing with local issues; it is up to county Farm Bureaus to decide. When debating and deciding on what course is the appropriate one, consider writing a local policy on it. IFB staff can assist in this process.
Economic Development is vital to agriculture’s success. In any setup, the county Farm Bureau has a role to play. Get engaged! Have a voice! And make agriculture a credible and vital industry amongst local officials and business leaders.
This story first appeared in the May/June edition of LINK: Local Information, News & Know-How.