USDA reorganization of Rural Development concerns supporters

While U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue has announced that the Rural Development agency would be elevated under a reorganization plan because it would be placed under the direct oversight of the Secretary, not everyone is viewing the consolidation as an elevation. The reorganization plan details efforts to “improve the effectiveness of USDA efforts” and includes plans to realign the Farm Service Agency, the Risk Management Agency, and the Natural Resources Conservation Service under a newly created Under Secretary for Farm Production and Conservation. While the report states that the reorganization will elevate Rural Development (RD), in the process it loses its own undersecretary. The USDA Office of Communications, in response to an SSTI request for clarification of the change, responded: “The agencies contained within Rural Development will remain as currently constituted and be led by the Assistant to the Secretary, who will have rural prosperity as a sole focus. Rural Development is gaining power, access, and direct influence. Secretary Perdue is a son of rural America and believes fully that this is an increase in stature for rural issues at USDA.”

Facing deindustrialization, smaller regions turn to innovation, workforce development

In a recent Digest article, SSTI covered research highlighting the oversized role that offshoring multinationals had in manufacturing employment decline from 1983 to 2011. During this time, deindustrialization and manufacturing unemployment had a profound impact on community approaches to economic development. Larger metropolitan areas like Pittsburgh, PA, Roanoke, VA, and Greenville, SC, have received considerable acclaim for their ability to restructure their economies around new and innovative technologies. Less covered, however, are the smaller rural or rust belt regions that are seeking to leverage higher education, community partnerships, an increasingly skilled workforce, and innovative technologies to become more competitive in a 21st century economy.

USDA Announces Launch of $100M Rural Business Investment Company

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced the launch of the McLarty Capital Partners’ Rural Business Investment Company (RBIC) – a new private investment fund with the potential to inject $100 million into growth-oriented, small businesses across rural America. As the fifth RBIC to launch since 2014, McLarty Capital Partners’ RBIC is part of the Made in Rural America initiative, an ongoing effort by the Obama administration to attract private sector capital to investment opportunities in rural America and drive more economic growth in rural communities.

Recent Research: Broadband Availability and Rural Entrepreneurship

Because existing evidence points to the presence of broadband as having a positive connection to the economic health in rural areas, numerous states and the federal government have made increasing broadband in these places a top priority.  In particular, many rural areas view broadband as an important tool in attracting entrepreneurs and other creative-class employees. Although this tactic is well intentioned, new research suggests that the association between expanded rural broadband availability and the proliferation of entrepreneurship and creative-class employees may not be as strong as one might think, and that the relationship may actually be negative.

Obama Administration Announces $66M via POWER Initiative

In partnership with the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC), the Economic Development Administration (EDA) announced the availability of $65.8 million in new funding through the Partnerships for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization (POWER) initiative. The POWER Initiative is a multi-agency effort aligning and targeting federal economic and workforce development resources to communities, regions and workers that have been affected by job losses in coal mining, coal power plant operations, and coal-related supply chain industries. The new funding will help communities and regions develop new strategies for economic growth and worker advancement.

Recent Research: Best Practices in Rural Economic Development

Across the globe, the proliferation of innovation-led economic development is typically viewed in an urban context. Despite cities receiving the bulk of the attention, researchers have begun to focus on how to leverage best practices in rural economic development. Just as is the case in nearly all economic development scenarios, practitioners and policymakers working in rural areas benefit from a better understanding of local strengths and opportunities, according to new research from the United States, Canada, and the European Union.

TN Commits $8M to Support Rural Economic Development

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam recently announced a new fund to support economic development in rural parts of the state. While most of the $8 million (approximately $7 million) is designated for shovel-ready economic development sites and tourism projects, the state will commit $600,000 for economic development grants to support entrepreneurship in small towns across the state including $300,000 to support a Main Street Business Incubator Program for downtown business districts. Launch Tennessee will receive $75,000 for AgLaunch – an agritech-focused business acceleration program developed by Memphis Bioworks Foundation. The state also committed $250,000 for a statewide broadband supply/demand analysis. Read the release:

Tennessee Announces Investment to Establish 100 Ag-Tech Businesses by 2020

Tennessee leaders hope to raise $10 million in public and private funding over the next five years to support an effort to attract 200 agricultural technology entrepreneurs and establish 100 ag-tech businesses by 2020. USDA Rural Development and the Tennessee Department of Agricultural recently announced they would seed that effort by contributing $220,000 to AgLaunch, a program to aid early-stage ag-tech companies. Memphis Bioworks Foundation will lead the initiatives, providing mentoring and programming opportunities for entrepreneurs. The program will begin in 2016.

USDA Announces Investments in Projects to Support Rural Prosperity, Facilitate Private Investments

Last week, the Department of Agriculture (USDA) held a special meeting that include approximately 100 investors and venture capitalists to help stimulate private sector investments in rural infrastructure projects with the potential to spur economic development in small towns and rural communities across the country. Through its U.S. Rural Infrastructure Opportunity Fund, the USDA has helped to facilitate the investment of nearly $161 million in private capital toward 22 critical water and community facilities projects in 14 states.

USDA, Private VCs Raising $125M for Rural Startups

Two private venture firms have committed to raising a total of $125 million to invest in rural, early stage startups under the Department of Agriculture's Rural Business Investment Program. The program was launched last April, when Advantage Capital Partners launched the first $150 million Rural Business Investment Company (RBIC) fund. Two new RBIC funds are now being raised by Innovation Memphis ($25 million) and Meritus Kirchner Capital ($100 million) to make targeting equity investments in rural businesses with high-growth potential. Learn more...


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