On the second day of his three-day bus tour of Midwest states, President Barack Obama kicked off the White House Rural Economic Forum at Northeast Iowa Community College in Peosta, Iowa.
The Forum brought together approximately 125 farmers, small business owners, private sector leaders, rural organizations, and government officials to discuss ideas and initiatives to promote economic growth, accelerate hiring, and spur innovation in rural communities nationwide. An additional 75 community college and local guests were also invited.
President Obama delivered the opening remarks where he stated "We know times are tough and getting out of this recession will not be Washington-driven but it will be driven by hard-working folks like you. We know what is possible. We have to put politics aside and put the country first."
The President pointed out "our administration has already helped 10,000 small businesses expand and provided operating and ownership loans to help more 35,000 small and medium-sized farms and ranches."
Obama said he called the Rural Economic Forum because "I want to hear from you'"
After the president's opening remarks, breakout sessions were held for 90 minutes, each led by a cabinet member or senior Administration official. The president sat in on "Growing Rural Small Business" with SBA Administrator Karen Mills and "Promoting Agricultural Innovation and Renewable Energy Jobs in Rural Communities" with USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack
Other sessions included:
* Strengthening the Middle Class in Rural America (Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan)
* Creating Jobs through Conservation, Outdoor Recreation and Tourism (Interior Secretary Ken Salazar)
* Building Economic Opportunity for Rural Businesses through Infrastructure Investments (Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood)
Not necessarily welcome
Even though many folks in the rural communities lined streets to try to get a glimpse of the president as he travelled through in his new $1.1 million bus, not everyone rolled out the welcome mat.
In a Tuesday morning editorial, the Dubuque [Iowa] Telegraph Herald wrote: "Mr. President, will this be a productive economic forum today, or a publicity generating event to bolster your re-election campaign?"
The paper went on to say: "The time, energy, planning and (taxpayer) money expended to arrange just one of these sessions is significant. Multiply that expense by each of the Midwestern stops and similar events. Wouldn't it have been cheaper to fly your hand-picked participants to Washington and have the conversations there?"
Forum follow-up at Iowa State Fair
On Friday, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack will hold a White House Rural Forum at the Iowa State Fair with businesses and community leaders, farmers, ranchers, and Tribal leaders to explore ways federal, state and local officials can work together to improve economic conditions and create jobs. As chair of the White House Rural Council, Secretary Vilsack will discuss the Rural Council's new policy recommendations, which focus on key areas of need in rural America including helping rural small businesses access capital, expanding rural job search and training services, and increasing rural access to health care workers and technology.
Today, Obama moves into Illinois. He will hold a town hall meeting in Alpha, Ill., at the Wyffel's Hybrid facility. We'll feature coverage of that talk online as well.