According to the US Department of Agriculture, rural America makes up only 16% of the US population. However, it is estimated that nearly 47% of South Carolina’s population reside in rural or very rural communities-areas of the state that struggle with high unemployment and poverty. With the high rate of rural residency, we must explore avenues to create opportunity in these often times forgotten areas.
Rural SC in Numbers
• Poverty rate is 24.7% in rural SC compared to 17.7% in urban SC (2011)
• Unemployment rate is 12.1% in rural SC compared to 8.6% in urban SC (2012)
• 1,632 rural communities live in a food desert
Although rural South Carolina faces many challenges, there are several statewide initiatives focused on creating economic and social opportunities:
USDA Rural Development: They are committed to helping improve the economy and quality of life in rural America by providing financial assistance that supports essential public facilities; housing; and health clinics.
Rural Resource Coalition SC: Leaders from a multitude of professional sectors including affordable housing, agriculture, community development, conservation, forestry, heirs’ property, and tourism recognized the need for a united effort focused on sustainable economic development in the state’s rural communities. The group works to create a stronger South Carolina economy through local food markets; working farm and forest conservation; affordable housing; homegrown renewable energy; downstream markets for agricultural and forestry products; and local tourism development.
South Carolina Office of Rural Health: SCORH is dedicated to ensuring equitable access to quality healthcare for all rural South Carolinians.
South Carolina Rural Infrastructure Authority: RIA is a state agency created by the General Assembly and its purpose is to select and assist in financing qualified rural infrastructure projects. Such infrastructure must meet an essential public purpose of providing environmental facilities and services to meet public health and environmental standards as well as to aid in the development of trade, commerce, industry, agriculture, aquaculture and employment opportunities.
South Carolina’s rural communities have garnered the attention of the USDA. Earlier this year, South Carolina, along with fifteen other states, was included in the USDA’s StrikeForce Initiative. The primary goal of the Initiative is to increase partnerships with rural communities and leverage community resources in targeted, persistent poverty areas. In the end, the Initiative will partner on projects that promote economic development and job creation for rural communities.
The SC Community Loan Fund is actively working to address the economic and community development needs of rural South Carolina, and serves on the Steering Committee for the Rural Resource Coalition SC.