Williams: House passes plan to boost rural economic development

NASHVILLE – Speaker Beth Harwell (R-Nashville) and Rep. Ryan Williams (R-Cookeville) announced this week that the Tennessee House Representatives passed legislation aimed at giving rural counties an economic boost.

The Rural Economic Opportunity Act of 2016 passed unanimously (97-0) Thursday. Rep. Curtis Halford (R-Dyer) ushered the legislation through the process. Nearly three in 10 Americans, and nearly half of all Tennesseans, live in a rural area or small city.

“I was proud to vote for this legislation today,” Harwell said in a release. “Last year, I created a task force on rural economic development, and this will greatly aid those efforts of making our rural communities more prosperous.”

The bill has two main parts. First, it implements a program called “Propelling Rural Economic Progress” (PREP). This program allows grants from the PREP fund to be used to help rural counties build sites and infrastructure, making their communities more attractive to prospective companies.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2016-17 recognizes a one-time state appropriation for the rural development initiative in the amount of $10 million.

Second, the legislation would restructure the county tier system making it easier for businesses in rural counties to qualify for job tax credits. This, in turn, will make it easier for businesses in those counties to expand and hire new workers.

“Our rural communities are lagging behind other parts in the state economically, and this legislation will help remedy that,” Williams said. “I’m proud of our elected officials coming together to aid rural counties as we all work to make the state more prosperous for all Tennesseans.”

The bill is currently awaiting approval in the Senate finance committee.

More information about the Rural Economic Opportunity Act of 2016 can be found at http://wapp.capitol.tn.gov/apps/BillInfo/default.aspx?BillNumber=HB2570&GA=109.

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