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Georgetown Law Hosts Luncheon Showcasing New Partnerships for Rural America

July 25, 2014 —

Georgetown Law was literally at the center of the White House Rural Council’s Rural Opportunity Investment Conference on Thursday, July 24, as Dean William M. Treanor hosted a luncheon for more than 500 conference attendees focusing on public-private partnerships and investment in rural America.

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Thomas Vilsack and CoBank CEO Robert B. Engel spoke of an initiative they announced earlier that day: the creation of a new $10 billion U.S. Rural Infrastructure Opportunity Fund through which private entities can invest in job-creating projects across the country. 

“It’s more than 10 billion dollars. It’s more than the opportunity it now creates for folks in this room and around the country to essentially participate in this fund. It’s really about a whole new way of doing business,” Vilsack said at the lunch. “There is enormous capacity to partner … and you here are at the beginning of this. You are the pioneers of this effort.”

Engel noted that the commitment and investment necessary to keep the rural economy vibrant and globally competitive requires more than the traditional players. “We must do everything we can to match rural infrastructure projects to sources of capital, and that’s why we are so delighted to be the anchor investor in this new fund,” he said.

Vilsack thanked the Law Center not only for convening the lunch, but also for “understanding these conversations.” He noted that Georgetown Law’s own new initiative, a series of symposia on public-private partnerships, will continue to explore the themes of the Rural Opportunity Investment Conference over the course of the next year. “[It] is going to get down into the nuts and bolts of how you create these partnerships.” 

Vilsack also recognized a partnership between the American Farm Bureau Federation and the Global Social Enterprise Initiative of Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business, focusing on entrepreneurship and strengthening rural America. 

In the keynote address, Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear spoke of successes in his state that can be a model for other states to follow. Among other things, Beshear has helped to create the successful SOAR program (Shaping Our Appalachian Region) to address the challenges facing eastern Kentucky and its economy. “You can … see the wide range and number of partners, both public and private, who have already engaged with us,” Beshear said. “This SOAR initiative is an innovative example of what some people call the ‘new rule of governance approach,’ and it’s one I think other governors will seek to emulate.” 

The two-day conference had other Georgetown Law connections: U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew (L’83) delivered Thursday’s opening plenary, entitled “Made in Rural America.” And Alfred J. Puchala (L’88) is the chief executive officer of Capitol Peak Asset Management, which will manage the new Opportunity Fund.

Georgetown Law also held a dinner for invited guests at the Law Center on Wednesday night, featuring Engel and Tony James, the CEO of Blackstone, as speakers.

“We’re used to being the focal point, the meeting place, the forum where scholars and lawyers government officials and visionaries can come together to discuss critical issues and try to shape solutions,” Treanor said.

At a press conference following the lunch, Vilsack said that the Rural Opportunity Investment Conference was just “the beginning of a significant journey that we are all going to take.”

“This conference is basically suggesting that what’s happening in Eastern Kentucky needs to happen all across the United States,” Vilsack said. “With the announcements that are being made today, with the symposium that will be conducted by Georgetown Law Center, with the ongoing work with the equity fund that was set up and announced several weeks ago, [and] the new farm bill programs that the governor and I have been talking about, how they may be useful in his SOAR effort — there are just a lot of reasons to be excited about the future.” 

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