According to the 2018 U.S. Census, 30,000 millennials left large cities for rural living. As this generation continues to make its way back to small towns for a slower pace and peace of mind, things are looking up for those communities. However, a long-standing problem reveals itself—the digital divide.
According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), approximately 14.5 million people in rural communities don’t have access to high-speed broadband internet and millions more lack the digital skills needed to use it productively. In addition, teens today are feeling the strain from a lack of quality broadband. In a recent 4‑H study on the digital divide, 43% of rural teens surveyed plan to leave their hometowns and 34% of those teens cite poor internet connectivity as the reason. As a result, these towns are losing talent and future innovation. With a surge of young families and many students adjusting to a digital learning environment, many rural communities risk falling behind.
Prioritizing Place-Based Investment
4‑H and Tractor Supply Company are investing in rural communities through skill development and community building. Collectively, our organizations meet young people in rural communities where they are by delivering resources to ensure they have the tools necessary to succeed in life and career.
Our partnership includes a bi-annual Paper Clover campaign which raises funds that directly impact the operations and continued growth (or impact) of local 4‑H programs.
Tractor Supply has supported 4‑H since 2010. The success of the Paper Clover fundraiser is a testament to the generosity and support of its team and customers for 4‑H’s mission. The donated funds remain in the state so the young men and women in the communities Tractor Supply calls home have access to invaluable 4‑H experiences such as hands-on educational camps, conferences, and other leadership programs. The 2021 Spring Paper Clover campaign raised over $718,000 bringing our partnership total to more than $15 million in support. This year was all the more important as students need funding to return to extracurricular activities safely amid the pandemic.
The American Connection Project is a collaboration of Tractor Supply, National 4‑H Council, Microsoft, Land O’ Lakes, and 150+ other industry-wide organizations which provides more than 2,800 free Wi-Fi locations nationwide. This innovative alliance was recently named a finalist for Fast Company’s 2021 World Changing Ideas Awards.—Access to these sites, including 1,200 Cooperative Extension offices and 1,400 Tractor Supply stores, ensures reliable broadband is available to communities that need it most.
As the nation’s largest youth development organization, led by America’s land-grant universities and Cooperative Extension System, 4‑H acts locally by meeting the needs of young people, no matter where they are. Our proven positive youth development programs are investments in rural communities that ensure all Americans have opportunities to grow and thrive. And youth are at the forefront of that growth. The expansion of the 4‑H Tech Changemakers program, which empowers young people to teach digital skills to adults in their community, is a vital step in preparing our future leaders and addressing the digital divide.
Eliminating the Opportunity Gap
To create a truly equitable and inclusive future for all, increased investments in rural communities are needed to close our country’s opportunity gap. Farmers, students, families, small business owners and entrepreneurs all depend on vital resources like high-speed internet access to connect and compete in a fast-changing economy. Tractor Supply and 4‑H are uniquely positioned to understand local needs and—as trusted household brands—develop national solutions.
Learn how 4‑H Tech Changemakers is empowering young people to close the digital divide.
Jennifer Sirangelo is the President and CEO of National 4‑H Council
Hal Lawton is the President and CEO of Tractor Supply Company