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Challenges and Opportunities for Latinos in Rural America

Hispanics are the most rapidly growing group in rural America and are disproportionately affected by downturns in the economy. In a session led by Congressman Ciro Rodriguez (TX-23), representatives from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and regional community organizations convened on Monday to discuss possible approaches to easing the both the long and short- term difficulties that such as economy has brought about in rural America.

Although the panel touched upon a variety issues, including regional food sharing programs and increasing broadband access, the majority of the discussion focused on Latino small business and educational opportunities. According to Judith Canales, Administrator for Business and Cooperative Programs in the USDA, Latinos have a great potential in making an impact on Corporate America, citing that Hispanics own over 1.6 million businesses and are developing them at three times the rate of the national average. To assist and sustain this growth, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) has devoted $1.7 billion towards business programs that could help fund repairs, machinery, supplies, and equipment modernization for many in rural America.

The investments in small businesses may help Latinos in rural areas, but Leodoro Martinez, Executive Director of the Middle Rio Grande Development Council, believes that education is the key for self-sustaining, rural communities. Like the rest of the panel, which also included Tammye Treviño, Administrator for the Rural Housing Service, Housing and Community Facilities Programs National Office in the USDA, Martinez cited out-migration, or "brain-drain," as a major phenomenon that drives away educated talent from rural America. Martinez also claimed that students in the Rio Grande Valley were inadequately prepared in math and science, low-levels of creative thinking abilities, and lacked good study habits. He provided the staggering statistic that 56 percent of people in the region under 25 years old did not have a high school education.

Hispanics are an integral part of rural America, comprising a large percentage of the population and labor force, but to be self-sustaining, Latino businesses must make the most of the ARRA and address educational problems both in school and at home.