During much of the past year, the White House has been engaged in an ambitious foreign policy agenda that includes restoring diplomatic relations with Cuba, finalizing a nuclear deal with Iran and negotiating a free-trade agreement with 11 countries along the Pacific Rim. In December 2014, President Obama announced he would re-establish diplomatic ties with Raul Castro’s Cuba. Six months later, Obama announced that the U.S. had reached an unprecedented multilateral agreement that would prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. In the next few months, the Obama administration is expected to finalize one of the largest free-trade agreements ever concluded. Following is a roundup of the administration’s recent foreign policy activities in each of these areas and what it means for states.

CSG Midwest
Iowa and Indiana are moving ahead with a mix of new programs and tax policies designed to expand broadband development in the state’s rural areas. In Iowa, Gov. Terry Branstad made his “Connect Every Acre” proposal a top priority this past legislative session. With passage of HF 655, the state is establishing a grant program for service providers that install broadband in areas that connect farms, schools and communities.

In May, the World Trade Organization found country-of-origin labeling requirements, often referred to as COOL requirements, in the United States to be inconsistent with its international obligations. If Congress fails to repeal these requirements, Canada or Mexico may enact retaliatory trade actions valued at more than $3 billion against various companies across all 50 states.  Read more HERE.

The city of Denver and state of Colorado have seen their share of transportation successes in recent years thanks in large measure to regional cooperation, federal investment, a 2004 tax increase, partnerships with the private sector and some innovative thinking. But the city and state face numerous challenges in the years ahead that will severely test the transportation system, notably a burgeoning population, stagnant federal investment and limits to increasing taxes at the state level. Those were some of the messages state and local officials delivered to a group of state legislators from eight states at the CSG West Transportation Forum last month in Denver.

Crowdfunding has been used to finance a vast assortment of projects in the last few years, but federal regulators have been slow to implement the sections of the JOBS act that allow most individuals to invest in startups financed by equity crowdfunding. In response, states have passed laws allowing companies to create crowdfunding platforms that cater to investors and entrepreneurs within the same state.

The crowdfunding industry in the United States has expanded rapidly in the last few years, growing from $2.7 billion in 2012 to an estimated $34.4 billion in 2015.  This growth has been driven by the expansion of online crowdfunding platforms that facilitate interaction between companies and potential investors.  Although the US JOBS act sought to regulate crowdfunding in 2012,...

CSG South

In 2008 and 2009, the American auto industry was in dire shape and the Big Three U.S. automakers—General Motors, Chrysler and Ford—were forced to make wrenching cuts in terms of employees and production. General Motors and Chrysler had no recourse but to secure emergency bailout assistance from the federal government, and consumers and companies faced serious difficulties in securing loans as a result of a credit freeze that was sweeping across the U.S. economy, along with a multiplicity of other challenges. The negative consequences of the Great Recession caused havoc on myriad sectors, and the fabled American auto industry, along with many other components of the U.S. economy, faced a series of grim choices. While there has been a radical but positive transformation in the nation's economic fortunes in the more than six years since the onset of the Great Recession, there still are significant sectors within the U.S. economy that remain weak.

In this context, the fact that the industry has made significant progress since those glum days speaks volumes about the resiliency of the industry and its willingness to make radical changes on a range of issues. Not only are the three U.S. automakers thriving compared to their doleful position in 2008 and 2009, the dozen or so foreign automakers with manufacturing facilities in a number of mostly Southern states continue to perform admirably. Notably, even during the darkest days of the Great Recession, not one of these foreign automakers, operating largely in the South, was forced to dismiss a single employee; even more impressively, a number of these foreign automakers actually expanded their operations during the Great Recession, a development that has indisputably assisted in the nascent resurgence of the American manufacturing sector in recent years.

CSG Midwest
With $84 million set aside in the new state biennial budget as incentive, Indiana is challenging its cities to work more closely together on projects that make their part of the state a more attractive place to live and work. In emphasizing collaboration over competition, the Regional Cities Initiative marks a new approach to economic development in Indiana. But as Rep. Ed Clere notes, it seeks to address an old problem. “The biggest economic issue we’re trying to address is attracting talent by improving quality of place,” he says. “Population stagnation has been identified as a significant threat to Indiana’s economic growth.”

Rural communities in the South continue to face serious challenges in getting highly educated students to return home after college graduation. Research indicates that education may be a cause and effect for this rural “brain drain” phenomenon, and also the key to reversing the trend. Studies have shown that efforts to improve rural education contribute to rapid economic development in those areas, while a more educated community can serve as a catalyst for business expansion and increased civic engagement. This complimentary webinar, presented by CSG South/SLC, highlights the impact of education on rural development and examines initiatives in rural communities to entice educated former residents to return and invest in their hometowns.

To paraphrase Mark Twain, “the reports of Rural America’s death are greatly exaggerated.” In fact, at least four major trends are helping improve the future of rural America: broadband, telemedicine, job training and new methods to attract young people to farming all offer hope.

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