Building America’s Rural Economy

Rural communities have distinctive assets to build and local challenges that must be addressed.

From day one as Governor of Colorado, John Hickenlooper elevated rural communities as a statewide priority, and he would do the same as President. Governor Hickenlooper recognizes that our nation’s rural communities cannot be narrowly defined, nor can the solutions developed to meet their challenges. In contrast to the typical Washington approach, President Hickenlooper would ensure federal resources support the economic, community and workforce development strategies of each rural community – to build on their distinctive assets and address challenges at the local level rather than impose one-size-fits-all strategies. And President Hickenlooper would streamline access to the more than 60 federal programs designed for rural communities.

Nearly one out of five Americans live in rural areas, covering 97% of the nation’s land area. About 9% (5.3 million) of our rural population lives in completely rural areas; while 41% (25 million) live in mostly rural counties, and 50% (30 million) live in mostly urban counties. [1] Rural America is also increasingly diverse, with Hispanics constituting the fast- growing segment of the rural population. [2]

Our rural communities are at the forefront of some of our nation’s greatest challenges and opportunities. As the only candidate for President who has been a successful entrepreneur, Mayor and Governor, John Hickenlooper is uniquely qualified to not just talk about a stronger, more effective federal rural policy, but to make it happen. President Hickenlooper would be a champion for our rural communities to improve access to healthcare, strengthen investment in infrastructure and human capital, bring focus to the one-fourth of our children who go to schools in rural areas or small towns (but are largely unnoticed in the national discussion over public education) and restore a national policy that protects rather than compromises our natural environment. And to help rural areas and regions leverage their unique competitive advantages. So that they ensure good-paying jobs and professional opportunities for current residents – and their children in the future – and attract new residents who can fill critical workforce shortages.

Colorado record

Colorado is one of the country’s most unique states because of its agricultural, urban, and mountain communities. As Mayor and Governor, John Hickenlooper led successful efforts to revitalize entire neighborhoods and bring economic growth to the entire region. As Governor, Colorado increased the rate of health insurance to nearly 95% [3] and he brought the state from 40th in job growth to the number one economy in the country. [4]

Governor Hickenlooper helped Colorado communities solve many pressing issues. All of Colorado’s 64 counties now have access to reliable broadband internet service. [5] With a bipartisan approach, Governor Hickenlooper created one of the most successful health exchanges in the country, expanded Medicaid which helped residents in every county access healthcare, [6] and he helped save over a dozen rural hospitals from closure. [7] Governor Hickenlooper also brought communities together to create a sustainable water plan, benefiting farmers and ranchers across Colorado and he led the expansion of Colorado’s booming outdoor recreation industry [8] that provides 350,000 jobs throughout the state. [9]

Under Hickenlooper’s leadership: [10]

Two-thirds of Colorado’s rural counties ranked in the top 25% for employment growth of all rural US counties.

  • Nearly 83% of Colorado rural counties rank in the top half of all rural counties for employment growth.
  • Colorado rural communities are attracting advanced manufacturing, outdoor recreation companies, sports enthusiasts and adventurers of all stripes from around the world.


Rural broadband

Every American must have access to fast and reliable broadband internet. In Colorado, Hickenlooper led a comprehensive effort to expand broadband to all of Colorado’s 64 counties, and Colorado is on a path to provide universal broadband access.

Today’s economy requires reliable broadband access. Too many rural communities are falling behind because their residents do not have access to the internet. As President, Hickenlooper will fund $20 billion to expand broadband access across the country. [11] This would include $10 billion specifically for the USDA’s Rural Utilities Service fund to directly deploy broadband access.

Just like FDR’s Rural Electrification Act of 1936 provided electricity to our rural residents that private business had abandoned, now the federal government needs to step up and provide broadband access for the “last mile” to ensure fairness and make sure all Americans are literally connected to each other. It is government’s role to provide this necessary utility. This $20 billion plan will be the largest investment in rural broadband in recent history and will connect our rural communities into today’s economy to spur entrepreneurship and growth. [12]

We also need to make sure that rural areas have speeds comparable to more urban communities.

Access to capital

As an entrepreneur, Governor Hickenlooper recognizes that access to capital is often the biggest impediment to business creation and growth. And he recognizes that this is a particular challenge in rural areas, where equity funding is limited, and many entrepreneurs don’t receive the capital necessary to move their ideas from demonstration and pilot stage to commercialization. In addition, small town banks often must be more conservative in lending, even though rural borrowers have a loan repayment rate higher than the national average.

Governor Hickenlooper would increase support for federal programs, including USDA Rural Development, which promote economic development. [13] This support would include fostering public private partnerships to promote growth in small businesses and build entrepreneurship. Critical to these partnerships between lenders and the government is the loan guarantee program, which ensures loans get made. Governor Hickenlooper would increase the capacity of rural banks to make loans by raising the federal loan guarantee to 90% of the loan value, while also working to decrease the red tape for lenders, so that business owners and entrepreneurs can build their businesses and create new jobs.

Direct access to rural business development leaders in our communities

Politicians in Washington often wrongly assume levels of rural capacity, burdening would-be entrepreneurs with onerous regulations and offering little guidance to navigate the variety of federal programs established to promote economic development. This inhibits the natural leveraging of local assets by compartmentalizing programs and is a total misalignment – the fundamental nonsense of Washington.

Without a connection to bridge the gap between the programs and the people they are intended to help, we are wasting resources and causing a breakdown in trust between the American people and a service-oriented government.

President Trump has proposed draconian cuts to this program, showing reckless disregard for the well-being of our rural areas, by scrapping the bulk of USDA’s economic development efforts. [14] For three straight years, Trump’s proposed budget has called for massive cuts to USDA, including a hollowing out of the Rural Business Cooperative Service, a key part of the USDA’s rural development programs that facilitates new construction and economic development in small towns. [15]

Conversely, the Hickenlooper approach will bring common sense to Washington. Governor Hickenlooper recognizes the value of the USDA Rural Development program to promote economic development in rural towns and regions. In a Hickenlooper Administration, the Rural Development program will have expanded capacity to deploy staff “on the ground”, providing guidance on grant and loan applications, helping build public-private partnerships, and cutting through red tape so communities get what they need and how they work. As an entrepreneur, Hickenlooper understands how onerous a loan application process can be, and how a business development professional who “shows up” can make a huge impact.

A new model for apprenticeships & skills training

As detailed in Hickenlooper’s “National Strategy for a Working America”, Hickenlooper is passionate about serving the two-thirds of Americans who won’t obtain a four- year college degree. [16] The numbers are even starker in our rural communities, where only 1 in 5 adults is a college graduate.

President Hickenlooper will make community college free for all Americans — young and old — who can’t afford it. This program is now a reality in nearly 20 states, and it’s time we expand it to all Americans. [17]

Next, Hickenlooper will scale Colorado’s successful CareerWise program, which offers high school students the opportunity to apprentice with all types of businesses, from banking to manufacturing, while earning college credit (at no cost to the students) and a paycheck (earning thousands of dollars in wages by the time students graduate). [18]

Hickenlooper created this program in Colorado by bringing people together and unleashing the power of government funding, nonprofit support and corporate opportunity. These programs are win-win, they provide students with transferable skills and a paycheck, while helping businesses who are eager to fill key middle-skills jobs and the program has since been replicated in more than a dozen states. [19]

CareerWise and apprenticeships can be particularly effective in our rural communities where we have an aging population and a need to provide our young people with opportunities to learn and grow in a variety of careers. The possibilities are endless. This program could be expanded to working on farms and ranches, as well as professional disciplines like working in the legal field, healthcare and finance.

The program will quickly become self-sustaining as both the apprentice and the hiring business benefit from the apprenticeship. Companies will realize positive ROI based on the value of the apprentices’ work, reduce turnover costs and create a talent pipeline of skilled workers for hard-to-fill positions. [20]

Fueling growth for micro-businesses with a new $50 billion tax credit

This “Mom & Pop” tax credit allows owners who are actively engaged in managing their microbusiness (businesses with five or fewer full-time employees and with revenues of less than $10 million annually) to receive up to $50,000 in lifetime tax credits based on two years of demonstrated growth of the business. [21] The applicant may earn a credit equal to 20% of the payments in new investments or new employment at the microbusiness. The total lifetime tax credits claimed by any single applicant and any related persons are limited to $50,000.

The Small Business Administration would be authorized to award tax credits up to $5 billion each calendar year, plus any unclaimed credits carried forward from the prior year. This would result in 1 million micro-entrepreneurs being eligible for a $50,000 tax credit.

Fueling rural and distressed-area growth —$10 billion investment in “Entrepreneurial Opportunity Zones”

Based on the Colorado Rural Jump-Start program, Hickenlooper has proposed a new national program of Entrepreneurial Opportunity Zones, which will provide incentives for entrepreneurs and workers in rural and distressed areas by providing tax relief to new businesses and new hires of these businesses. Companies participating in the Jump-Start program must:

  1. Develop a relationship with a local/regional state higher education institution
  2. Be located in one of the existing 8,700 Opportunity Zones nationwide
  3. Be new to the Opportunity Zone
  4. May not directly compete with existing business in the Opportunity Zone
  5. Hire at least 5 new FTEs in the Opportunity Zone

All new businesses that are approved for participation in the program receive a 25% deduction in corporate income taxes for five years. All new hires that are approved for participation in the program receive a 25% deduction in federal income taxes for five years.

Many states have opportunity zones in primarily rural areas, but to ensure investments are being routed to our rural communities, the Small Business Administration will have the authority to designate additional “rural” Opportunity Zones.

The Jump-Start Zone program is exclusively for businesses designated as new businesses. The Entrepreneurial Opportunity Zone program will be capped at providing $10 billion in tax relief annually with each Opportunity Zone receiving an allocation of at least $1,000,000 in tax incentives.


Rural communities are exporting their best resources, their people. We need to build comprehensive opportunities for those who want to live, work and play in the communities they were raised and to provide a welcome mat to all those who want to realize their American Dream in our small towns.

Increasing student loan forgiveness for high-need careers in rural areas

Loan forgiveness programs are a key tool to help rural communities attract talented professionals to begin their careers in high-need areas where they can gain valuable hands-on experience.

Currently, there are disparate student loan forgiveness programs across federal, state and local agencies including Health and Human Services and the Department of Education. [22] Throughout Hickenlooper’s career in government service, he has focused on government efficiency and effectiveness and this is a key area where a more integrated and streamlined approach will benefit our rural communities and our graduates with high student debt levels.

In conjunction with his plan to cut student loan rates on all federal loans to 2.5% [23], Hickenlooper will establish a coordinated program of student loan forgiveness initiatives that build on existing programs, to require 2-5 years of full-time work in communities of high-need working in high-impact fields like healthcare, teaching and legal work.

Championing creative industries and the arts

Hickenlooper has demonstrated success in enhancing communities of all sizes, through the encouragement and support of creative industries and cultural programs, including art programs, live music venues and redevelopment of cultural centers like opera houses. [24] This “Main Street” program has made communities of all sizes more desirable to people of all ages, and adds to the well-being of residents and visitors. Hickenlooper knows we must pair economic development with cultural development, because our communities are stronger when they boost creativity and serve as hubs to live, work and play.

Hickenlooper would increase funding for initiatives like the Federal Historic Tax Credit which facilitates private sector investment in the renovation of historic buildings. [25] In addition, as Gov. Hickenlooper did in Colorado, he would work with local communities to establish “creative districts” designed for new private investment and he would promote initiatives that offer affordable housing for creative-sector workers. [26]

Creating collaborative community hubs

As part of Hickenlooper’s Infrastructure Plan [27] to enhance our communities and bring green jobs, he will support the construction and development of community buildings in our small towns – recognizing that having a community hub is so vital for our small towns – as a place to gather, host events like weddings, graduation parties and celebrations. These community buildings can also serve as incubators, promoting development and teamwork. They can be paired with existing or new post-offices and other government services to enhance government efficiency and they will be green, environmentally friendly places to gather. Building these new centers will be a collaborative effort using federal and state funds, and local community resources to ensure buy-in at every level.

In addition to building new community centers, Hickenlooper’s Infrastructure Plan will strengthen rural areas’ capacity to repurpose closed school buildings and malls, retrofit spaces to align with the latest practices in sustainable, environmentally-friendly construction, create new green jobs and the buildings will serve as a community hub and economic development incubator going forward.


Governor Hickenlooper deeply respects the essential contributions of our nation’s farmers and ranchers. The women and men, boys and girls, who work the land are some of America’s hardest workers. They are required to possess the knowledge and skills of agronomists, veterinarians, mechanics, meteorologists and economists.

The Trump Administration is hurtling us to another Farm Crisis, not seen since the 1980s. If we are not careful, we’re going to wipe out a new generation of farmers, at a time when the amount of family farmers is already at an all-time low.

Ending the devastating tariff war

American Farmers feed the world and we cannot afford to cut them off from global markets. Ninety-five percent of the world’s consumers now live outside the US,[28] and our farmers are being forced to the sidelines while other countries have rushed in to fill the gap vacated by American leadership. [29] In his previously announced trade policy, Hickenlooper issued a clarion call for global engagement. [30]

One of Donald Trump’s most harmful and short-sighted actions has been to launch tariff wars and walk away from trade agreements that held the promise of growing our economy, creating good jobs, and deepening security ties with friends and allies around the world. Our farmers want to be paid for what they produce, and Trump’s ill-conceived bailout is too little and too late, especially for our small family farms. [31]

The tariff war has already led to dire consequences for our rural communities:

Trump’s own Department of Agriculture estimates that the on-going tariff war will have an $11 billion negative impact on US agriculture. [32]

  • US farmers in the Midwest are filing for chapter 12 bankruptcy protection at the highest levels in a decade. In seven Midwestern rural states, including Iowa, farm bankruptcies in 2018 were almost double the amount from 2008. [33]
  • The US lost out on an estimated $131 billion increase in annual real incomes, or .5% of GDP, due to failure to secure a trade deal with Pacific trading partners. [34]
  • Researchers at Iowa State University estimate that Iowa’s overall losses in the agricultural industry will exceed $1 billion in 2018 alone from trade disruptions linked to tariffs. [35]
  • The global trade war set off by Trump’s tariffs is devastating the dairy industry in Wisconsin and around the nation. The US Dairy Export Council estimates that over the next several years, retaliatory tariffs by Mexico and China could cost dairy farmers $16.6 billion in lost revenues. [36]

By contrast, Hickenlooper’s trade plan — in conjunction with his broad economic strategy — will ensure more growth, opportunity, and fairness for the American people. Hickenlooper understands that being absent from economic opportunity anywhere in our interconnected world is not an option. He believes open and fair trade is achievable, and essential to the prosperity and security of the American people.

Addressing ag industry consolidation and anti-competitive practices

Like many other industries, the ag industry continues to consolidate with a few dominant companies at the top stifling competition and depressing wages. [37] Hickenlooper has announced a detailed plan to strengthen and enforce antitrust laws, by interpreting the laws to analyze all aspects of mergers and consolidations – and how combinations affect consumers, workers, and competitors. [38]

In addition, he will codify the “right to repair” so our farmers and ranchers aren’t forced to only use dealers and big manufacturers for their machinery and equipment repair needs. [39] By hamstringing the right to repair, big business is stifling competition and hurting consumers.

Embracing the great outdoors

As a geologist, Hickenlooper values the importance of our natural lands, and has been a consistent and vocal advocate for outdoor exploration. He recognizes that farmers and ranchers are stewards of the land, and some of the original conservationists. They love the outdoors as their livelihoods are wedded to the land, and we all want it to benefit generations.

Hickenlooper created the first ever Outdoor Recreation office and he led the creation of the historic Confluence Accords, an eight-state partnership to promote: economic development, conservation and stewardship, education and workforce training, and public health and wellness. The alliance allows for coordinated cooperation between the states and defines rules for courting outdoor industry businesses. [40]

As President, Hickenlooper would promote outdoor recreation and ecotourism, working with our landowners, as a way to diversify income streams and provide avenues for the public to experience the Great Outdoors.

Wind, solar and renewable energy

Governor Hickenlooper has been a leader in boosting wind energy production and Colorado consistently ranks in the top 10 of wind power-producing states. [41] Under Hickenlooper’s leadership, Colorado has more than doubled the number of wind turbines and has provided an additional income stream for ranchers while boosting renewable energy production. [42] Likewise, Colorado is the 12th largest solar state and added 780 solar jobs in 2017. [43]

Governor Hickenlooper’s success in boosting solar energy and declaring energy storage a “right” of Colorado residents has received commendation for experts in the solar industry. By working with private industry and emphasizing a market-based approach, Hickenlooper has brought win-win solutions to rural communities.

Support for ethanol and biofuels

The 2005 Renewable Fuel Standard legislation and its expansion in 2007 were vital for rural economic growth. In Iowa alone, there are now nearly 50,000 jobs related to ethanol production and 39% of all Iowa corn is used to produce ethanol. [44] This industry is helping fuel the entire country and providing high quality livestock feed. As President, Hickenlooper will stop the Environmental Protection Agency from issuing waivers to refiners allowing them to dodge the important ethanol mixing mandate and he will oppose any efforts to repeal the Renewable Fuel Standard.


Lack of hospitals, providers, and specialists

Rural areas have been hardest hit by the rise in cost of healthcare. Areas that had few options for insurers or providers have lost choices or even access to services all together. Folks who need specialists often have to travel hundreds of miles to their nearest city. This results in often serious expenses for overnight stay and travel. Rural hospitals are almost completely dependent on Medicare and Medicaid making the attacks on these vital programs from the Trump Administration even more hurtful to our rural communities.

As Governor of Colorado, John Hickenlooper stopped the closure of over a dozen rural hospitals. He expanded Medicaid with a bipartisan effort to all corners of the state. This resulted in more patients for rural hospitals and clinics. In the last two years of his governorship, Colorado had nearly universal healthcare despite the Trump Administration’s attempts to strangle the Affordable Care Act.

As President, John Hickenlooper will stop the attacks on the ACA and expand a public option to every American. This will create needed competition in rural areas for insurance and help hospitals stay open. In order to solve the serious lack of nurses, doctors, and dentists in rural areas, Hickenlooper will provide a path for student debt forgiveness and provide incentives for them to stay and raise their families. Rural areas deserve the same quality and access to healthcare as their urban counterparts.





















[21] Nebraska currently offers an Advantage Microenterprise Tax Credit that is similar to this approach:  



[24] and





















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