By Tim Reid
(Reuters) – Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg unveiled an ambitious plan on Tuesday to transform the economy of rural America, including spending $80 billion to provide high-speed internet and $50 billion over a decade to help farmers combat climate change.
Buttigieg, 37, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, also proposes dramatically increasing teacher pay in rural areas, reducing the shortage of teachers by half and spending $5 billion over a decade to ensure an apprenticeship program in a growing industry is available within 30 miles of every American.
Buttigieg was due to unveil his plan as he begins a two-day, seven-county swing through southeast Iowa. The Midwestern state kicks off the Democratic nominating contest in February.
There are currently 24 Democrats vying to become the party’s nominee to take on Republican President Donald Trump in the November 2020 election.
Many of those 2020 hopefuls are making big efforts in rural America that swung heavily to Trump when he won the White House in 2016.
“Our government too often treats rural America as an afterthought,” Buttigieg said in a statement before the plan was due to be unveiled.
“This plan unleashes the potential of small towns across America with good jobs, an opportunity to grow a business and the infrastructure to raise a healthy and happy family,” he said.
Buttigieg last week unveiled a plan to improve healthcare for rural Americans. He follows several Democratic rivals who have also released plans to improve the economy and health of small-town America, where life expectancy is lower than for people living in cities.
The Indiana Democrat proposes matching federal funds for every dollar spent, up to $100,000 per opportunity, for the 1,000 most innovative rural businesses, to try and spark innovation and job growth.
A military veteran, Buttigieg also wants to provide more funding for returning veterans seeking to start up a rural business. He proposes expanding the Small Businesses Administration’s “Boots to Business” entrepreneurship education program from two days to two weeks.
Veterans who successfully complete this program and have an accepted business plan will receive a $10,000 grant to start their business.
Tom Vilsack, the former Democratic governor of Iowa and former U.S. agriculture secretary under President Barack Obama, praised Buttigieg’s plan.
“Pete Buttigieg understands the importance of rural places and rural people to our country. His multifaceted plan calls for significant investment in people … to develop a generation of entrepreneurs doing business in rural America and small towns.”
(Reporting by Tim Reid, editing by G Crosse)