The Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs at Western Illinois University is among 34 national recipients awarded USDA grants to help rural cooperatives and small businesses expand and strengthen their capacities to serve rural citizens and communities.
According to Fred Iutzi, an IIRA program manager, the nearly $200,000 in funding is provided through the USDA Rural Cooperative Development (RCDG) program.
"We will receive a grant of $199,871 to assist cooperatives in such markets as renewable energy, bio-based products and local foods, as well as to engage other agencies to build statewide capacity for cooperative development," Iutzi says. "The primary objective is to increase the number of rural cooperatives that start up, persist, expand and succeed. Facilitating the success of locally owned and operated rural businesses is already a keystone strategy for IIRA, due to the positive effect these firms have on local and regional economies. In addition, cooperatives can be an opportunity for successful rural businesses in niches where other forms are unsuitable or have failed to start up or persist."
IIRA Director Christopher Merrett notes the IIRA has maintained a longstanding focus on promoting local foods through research, teaching, state policy development and technical assistance.
"We will identify and address specific barriers to success in the production, packaging and marketing segments of the local foods value chain, and we will work to place the information from our findings directly into the hands of cooperatives," he explains. "The IIRA will also provide a leadership role in the renewable energy and bio-based sector with this funding, and in general, present cooperatives as a meaningful option for sustainable economic development in rural areas."
Iutzi says the IIRA plans to work with other groups on cooperative development efforts.
"We look forward to partnering with key allies like the members of Illinois Development Council, Illinois Small Business Development Centers, University of Illinois Extension and Illinois Farm Bureau to effectively reach cooperatives," he adds.
Several state and regional cooperative-specific organizations are also named in the overall grant award, including Illinois Cooperative Council, Mid America Cooperative Council and the Indiana Cooperative Development Center.
According to the USDA, the grants are awarded to non-profit groups and higher education institutions to help establish, expand or operate rural businesses, especially cooperatives and mutually owned businesses. Since fiscal year 2009, the RCDG program has awarded 166 grants for approximately $33 million and has helped nearly 3,000 businesses. Technical assistance these centers provide helps generate new opportunities for American farmers, create jobs in local food processing and distribution industries and serve growing consumer demand for locally produced products.
For more information about the USDA RCDG grant awards, see www.rurdev.usda.gov/STELPRD4022404.html.
Source: Western Illinois University