The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is awarding $4.9 million in 50 projects nationwide focused on fueling small and emerging rural businesses and transportation projects. The strategic investments are designed to boost economic growth in small towns and communities.
USDA announced the $4.9 million commitment available through its Rural Business Enterprise Grant program. The federal funding has been awarded to programs promoting the development of small and emerging businesses in rural areas, as well as supporting distance learning networks and employment-related adult education programs. The grants were given to a variety of public agencies, nonprofit organizations and federally recognized tribes including:
- The University of Florida’s Sid Martin Biotechnology Incubator to replace aging equipment
- Maryland Capital Enterprises to provide microloans, training and business assistance to entrepreneurs
- International Economic Development Council to provide technical assistance and training workshops for unemployed workers
In addition, the USDA is giving a $500,000 transportation grant to the Community Transportation Association of America to better connect rural communities in four states to economic opportunities. The projects include:
- Rexburg, Idaho: Develop new public transit
- Alice, Texas: Improve transit facilities in Jim Wells County
- Seward, Alaska: Organize public transit services for senior citizens
- Salmon, Idaho: Initiate transit services between Salmon and Lemhi counties
USDA is also offering the Community Transportation Association of America with a $250,000 grant for transit improvement projects in three tribal communities across the country.
USDA’s Rural Business Enterprise Grants (RBEG) program supports rural projects that spur economic development in small businesses, facilitate distance learning networks, and finance adult employment training and education programs. The program pays special consideration to smaller initiatives, with most grants awarded ranging from $10,000 to $500,000.
Eligible projects must demonstrate at least 51 percent of the interest in a project should belong to local residents, not large organizations or corporations. The program funds a variety of rural development projects including:
- Development of land
- Renovation of buildings
- Street and road maintenance
- Capitalization of revolving loan funds
- Training and technical assistance
- Project planning
All projects awarded funding must demonstrate a benefit for small and emerging private businesses – employ 50 or less employees and generate less than $1 million in gross revenues – in rural areas.
Furthermore, USDA is offering each state a “Made in Rural America” report to outline where the department’s investments have been made and the impact of the federal funding. The state-specific factsheets focus on USDA rural development grants impacting several industries such as:
- Infrastructure development
The reports also identify how many businesses and families have moved to rural communities thanks to successful economic development, technology upgrades and employment training programs. USDA breaks the reports down into four sections of the rural economy all projects aim to strengthen:
- Developing a robust bio-based economy
- Promoting exports and production agriculture fueled by increased productivity and research
- Encouraging conservation including land management, stewardship and outdoor recreational opportunities
- Building a strong local and regional food system to combine entrepreneurialism and local farming