Although 1 in 5 Americans live in rural areas and 97 percent of land in the United States is considered to be rural, many of our rural communities have often been economically, socially, and politically left behind. Maryland’s rural towns are far from homogenous and are home to a diverse number of industries that are vital to the fabric of our state — from farming to manufacturing to recreation and the arts. Our communities in western Maryland, southern Maryland, and on the Eastern Shore are indispensable. They need investments and resources to thrive. Our Comptroller must ensure that every part of the state is meeting its full economic potential – including our rural areas.
The pandemic exposed how critical affordable, reliable access to the internet is for all Marylanders. Without broadband, families are unable to access online school and telehealth appointments, apply for benefits online, work remotely, or access goods and services. Local governments and first responders are hampered in their ability to meet the needs of their communities. Businesses have struggled to adapt to a digital platform so they can keep revenue flowing and grow their business, and farmers have been unable to leverage the latest technology to improve their operations. While short term programs to connect people with WiFi hotspots and subsidies are valuable during the current crisis, they don’t close the access gap and are not a sustainable, future-proof solution. As Comptroller, Brooke will call for leveraging federal and state dollars and private sector collaboration to build the infrastructure we need to connect every household and provide the training and support to make sure people can use digital services and devices.
Maryland is stronger when our rural communities and families are thriving. Our small towns are home to talented people and rural places are full of natural and cultural resources that enrich our lives. In order to make sure that young people growing up in rural places can build their futures there and new residents can see the opportunity in small towns, we need to invest in core assets and infrastructure. These assets – including schools, hospitals, affordable and safe housing, and downtown businesses – create social capital, a sustainable economic base and more livable communities. As Comptroller, Brooke will call for targeted investments in rural community infrastructure.
All rural students deserve access to 21st-century tools and instruction that will set them up to be future innovators and problem-solvers. That means, along with universal broadband, we need to invest in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) programs as well as provide cutting edge technology education. Every career pathway – whether healthcare, agriculture, advanced manufacturing, creative arts, or education requires technological fluency and skill. We should be ensuring that all residents – from our rural communities to our suburbs to our urban centers – have access to industrusty specific digital skills training and pathways to employment, including jobs that can be done remotely. Brooke will support investments in innovative solutions for access to education and job training.
Today’s entrepreneurs are tomorrow’s employers. Communities are more resilient and better able to weather recessions and disruptions like the pandemic when they have a diverse economic base powered by many types of businesses. Our state is stronger when we provide opportunities for talented people everywhere. Rather than focus only on attracting and retaining larger employers in rural areas, we need to support local efforts to develop an ecosystem that can support a diversity of entrepreneurs across multiple sectors, including agriculture, aquaculture, clean energy, tech, healthcare, and professional services. Brooke will use the Comptroller’s Office, in collaboration with the Department of Commerce, to: