Collaboration between the U.S. Department of Commerce's Economic Development Administration, the USDA, the Delta Regional Authority and the Appalachian Regional Commission will provide grants to thirteen businesses and projects to facilitate job growth and innovation among small and rural communities.
Sixty-two applications were examined for the thirteen spots in the Rural Jobs Challenge program. Winners were announced Wednesday.
The program is a national initiative to provide businesses with research and development support to increase capital, hire and train workers and create jobs. By leveraging local assets, the selected industry clusters and partnerships can help entrepreneurs and small businesses foster innovation and increase competitiveness, which is critical to long-term economic growth in their regions.
In a teleconference Wednesday, Deputy Under Secretary for USDA Rural Development Doug O'Brien said the program was also a way to improve rural infrastructure and support local food systems.
"We are focusing on how we can use our current funding streams to support small entrepreneurs who are learning how to take advantage of this increased interest in local and regional foods," O'Brien said. "Many times what we hear is that what is lacking in rural places is not demand, but it's that infrastructure in between."
He said the innovators program will ensure improvements will be made to capture economic opportunities for local food.
O'Brien said another aspect of the initiative is tourism.
"People in rural America know that rural America is a great place to live," O'Brien said. "It's a great place to live for so many reasons—the strong values, the economic opportunities that are emerging, and also because of the local culture."
O'Brien said that those cultural assets are being used to leverage tourism and bring economic boosts to rural areas.
"There is a great quality of life in rural America. Many times that is based on the history and the tradition of that place and we want to support people who are lifting that up, who are making the best of that asset," O'Brien said.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the Jobs and Innovation Accelerator challenge winners will provide many assets for communities.
"[Winners]are able to assist in a wide-range of areas include housing, community facilities, and economic and community development leading to job creation, expanded markets, and economic growth," he said.
Last year's 20 challenge winners generated millions in matching funds and their projects are expected to help create hundreds of new businesses and thousands of new jobs.
This year's winners of the Rural Jobs and Innovation Accelerator challenge are:
• Alaska: Bristol Bay Jobs Accelerator Project, $405,023
• Connecticut: New England Food Hub Cluster Initiative, $568,150
• Illinois: Henry-Rural Rock Island-Mercer County Economic Development Consortium, $193,500
• Kansas: Advanced Manufacturing Institute at Kansas State University, $715,000
• Louisiana-Arkansas: I-20 Corridor Regional Accelerator, $964,134
• Mississippi: Mississippi State University, $1,065,000
• New Hampshire: Northern Tier Farm and Forest Jobs Accelerator, $708,750
• North Carolina: WNC AgriVentures -- Cultivating Jobs and Innovation Project , $815,000
• North Carolina: Northern Carolina Eastern Region Aerospace and Automotive Cluster Project, $715,000
• South Carolina: Southern Carolina Alliance Rural Jobs and Innovation Accelerator Challenge, $650,000
• Virginia: Appalachian Spring – Using Asset-Based and Creative Economy Methods to Catalyze Rural Job Acceleration, $815,000
• West Virginia: Southern West Virginia Rural Jobs Accelerator Partnership, $717,985
• West Virginia: Value Chain Cluster Initiative, $815,000
The competition is funded by the U.S. Department of Commerce's Economic Development Administration, U.S. Department of Agriculture and Appalachian Regional Commission, and Delta Regional Authority. It was designed by the Taskforce for the Advancement of Regional Innovation Clusters and the White House Rural Council.
The initiative is also supported by nine other Federal agencies: Commerce's U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and National Institute of Standards and Technology Manufacturing Extension Partnership; Denali Commission; U.S. Department of Education; U.S. Department of Labor's Employment and Training Administration; U.S. Department of Energy; Environmental Protection Agency; U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development; and the Small Business Administration.