Water and sewage infrastructure, diversity inclusion, climate change and rural housing development are some of the challenges surrounding rural development.
President Joe Biden has appointed USDA officials in 12 states, including Oklahoma, where Kenneth Corn, a native of Howe, is the new state director for rural development. While still a student at the University of Oklahoma, he served as a Democrat in the state House of Representatives and later served in the state senate.
After being fired, Corn worked in the oil and gas industry and became Anadarko’s city manager in 2015.
As Director of Rural Development, Corn will oversee the office offering grants, loans and loan guarantees. Corn said he wants to reach out to entities and people such as tribal nations and the commissioner of state banks to learn how to make federal resources more efficient.
“I want to try to make people’s interface with the federal government as easy as possible and make sure they know about the tools available so they can get the help they need,” Corn said.
When the pandemic started, Corn said some communities in Oklahoma were unprepared for the technological issues it brought due to lack of broadband connectivity. Corn said this, along with water and sewer infrastructure, diversity inclusion, climate infrastructure and rural housing development are some of the issues he wants to focus on in his new role. .
The state ranks 47th in the nation for broadband connectivity, and federal funds through the bipartisan infrastructure bill have been allocated to help address the issue.
Brian Whitacre is a professor at Oklahoma State University, an academic extension specialist for rural economic development, and serves on the state’s Rural Broadband Expansion Board. He said the money from the federal government has not yet been received, the council is in the process of creating a state map to show where broadband availability is needed.
Whitacre said some things like water infrastructure also received money through the infrastructure bill, but also through the American Rescue Plan Act.
There are challenges in the state, Whitacre said, that are common in other areas.
“Of course, we still have a problem with rural hospital closures across the state,” Whitacre said. “Many southern states have suffered from the loss of their hospitals and Oklahoma is no different.”