Washington -- Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced the selection of 34 organizations for grants to help rural cooperatives and small businesses expand and strengthen their capacity to serve rural citizens and communities.
'Our rural communities have incredible potential to create new jobs and expand opportunity for rural Americans,' said Vilsack. 'The grants announced today will strengthen rural business development by partnering with rural co-ops and non-profits, expanding technical assistance for Main Street businesses. Today's effort is yet another example of USDA's comprehensive focus on revitalizing the rural economy, and it is a reminder that a new Food, Farm and Jobs Bill is pivotal to continue these efforts.'
Funding is being provided through the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA's) Rural Cooperative Development Grant (RCDG) program. The grants are being awarded to non-profit groups and higher education institutions to create and operate centers that help establish, expand or operate rural businesses, especially cooperatives and mutually-owned businesses. These competitively-awarded grants may be used to conduct feasibility studies, create and implement business plans, and help businesses develop new markets for their products and services. Since fiscal year 2009, the RCDG program has awarded 166 grants for approximately $33 million and has helped nearly 3,000 businesses.
Today's announcement includes several recipients who are developing new market opportunities for rural farmers and ranchers by capitalizing on budding consumer interest in locally produced food.
For example, the Indiana Cooperative Development Center is being selected for a $200,000 grant to assist food hubs - facilities that aggregate local food and market it to large-volume buyers in the region - as part of the 'My Local Indiana' effort. In North Dakota, the Common Enterprise Development Corporation is receiving a $200,000 grant to explore the creation of a local food processing, storage and delivery cooperative. Secretary Vilsack announced this award last week as part of Native American Heritage Month.
The technical assistance these centers provide will help generate new opportunities for American farmers and ranchers, create jobs in local food processing and distribution industries, and serve growing consumer demand for locally-produced products. A recent Michigan State University study found that the average food hub creates nearly 20 jobs and generates close to $4 million in sales.
The projects supported through today's announcement go far beyond food. For example, Western Illinois University (Macomb, Ill.) will receive a $199,871 grant to conduct outreach on renewable energy and bio-based products, among other projects. It also will help build statewide capacity for cooperatives. The Community and Shelter Assistance Corporation in Sherwood, Ore., will use a $147,200 grant to help farmers, ranchers and rural small businesses in underserved communities build affordable housing and neighborhood facilities.
Vilsack announced more than $6 million in grants for today's list of recipients. Funding for each recipient is contingent upon the recipient meeting the terms of the grant agreement.
President Obama's plan for rural America has brought about historic investment and resulted in stronger rural communities. Under the President's leadership, these investments in housing, community facilities, businesses and infrastructure have empowered rural America to continue leading the way – strengthening America's economy, small towns and rural communities. USDA's investments in rural communities support the rural way of life that stands as the backbone of our American values.
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