President Barack Obama plans to create a special advisory council to recommend ways to boost the economic outlook and quality of life for the estimated 60 million people who live in rural areas of the U.S., a White House official said.

Obama was expected to sign an executive order Thursday establishing the White House Rural Council and naming Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, of Iowa, to be its chairman.

The official asked not to be identified in order to speak freely before a formal White House announcement about the council.

The panel will be responsible for providing recommendations to the president on investment in rural areas, as well as coordinating with a variety of rural interests, including agricultural groups, small businesses, and state, local and tribal governments.

It will focus on 10 areas that affect nearly one-fifth of the U.S. population of 308 million. But the panel's initial focus will be on job creation and economic development.

Rural residents are eager for better educational opportunities, transportation alternatives, better access to health care and reliable access to the Internet, among other issues.

The remaining subject areas will be: agriculture, access to credit, innovation, health care, education, Internet access, infrastructure, conservation and developing regional economies.