USDA invests in small and emerging rural businesses and rural transportation

Farm Forum

WASHINGTON — On Oct. 21, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that USDA is investing $4.9 million in 50 projects across the country to support small and emerging rural businesses and rural transportation projects.

“USDA is working to expand economic opportunities and bring well-paying jobs to rural communities,” Vilsack said. “Strategic investments in rural businesses will help grow local economies and revitalize small towns and communities.”

The investments announced, through USDA’s Rural Business Enterprise Grant (RBEG) program, promote the development of small and emerging businesses in rural areas. RBEGs may also be used to help fund distance learning networks and employment-related adult education programs. Eligible applicants include local public entities, private non-profit corporations and federally recognized Indian Tribes.

The University of Florida’s Sid Martin Biotechnology Incubator program in Alachua is selected to receive a $190,000 grant to replace aging equipment. The program has been successful in growing companies that are bringing products to market and creating high-wage jobs. Maryland Capital Enterprises, Inc., in Salisbury, is receiving a $50,000 grant to provide microloans, training and one-on-one business assistance to micro-entrepreneurs. The International Economic Development Council, a national organization in Washington, D.C., will use a $69,918 grant to provide technical assistance to analyze the skills of workers who have lost their jobs within the last two years, as well as to provide training workshops.

Additionally, USDA announced it is providing a $500,000 RBEG transportation grant to the Community Transportation Association of America, Inc. (CTAA) to help rural communities in four states. The projects are:

• In Rexburg, Idaho, funds will be used to help develop new public transit services.

• In Alice, Texas, investments will help develop and improve transit facilities in the city of Alice and in Jim Wells County.

• In Seward, Alaska, funding will help a senior citizens organization begin public transit services.

• In Salmon, Idaho, funds will help a local economic development association initiate transit services in Salmon and Lemhi counties.

CTAA was also selected to receive a $250,000 RBEG grant to support transit improvement projects in three Tribal communities in several states. Funds will help the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes in Idaho develop a plan to meet Tribal members’ mobility needs. In Montana, the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of the Flathead Nation will receive technical assistance to help expand transit services into Lake and Sanders counties. In Arizona, Colorado and Utah, funds will be used to provide technical assistance to the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe to expand transit services for tribal members.

Since the beginning of the Obama Administration, the RBEG program has helped create or save more than 90,000 rural jobs, provided more than $54 million in economic development assistance, improved manufacturing capability, expanded health care and educational facilities, and has either expanded or helped establish more than 3,200 economic development projects.

Funding for the recipients announced is contingent upon their meeting the terms of the grant agreement.

The RBEG program has a strong track record of success. For example, the city of Luverne, Minn., used a 2013 RBEG grant of nearly $100,000 to help revitalize small businesses downtown. Local leaders used the money as seed capital. They combined it with $350,000 in local funding to help establish a revolving fund that provides affordable financing for downtown businesses. Loans have been used to purchase new doors and windows, upgrade electrical systems and make other improvements to buildings. As each loan is repaid, the city relends the funds. To date, the fund has helped financed 13 small businesses.