The National Summit of Rural America convened earlier this month at the request of U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. Held in Jefferson County, Missouri, the summit brought together rural constituencies and policymakers to discuss the reauthorization of the Farm Bill, which is set to expire in 2012. In his keynote speech, Vilsack expressed that rural communities have been and continue to be hard hit by the economic climate. He stressed that Washington needs to be made aware of what these communities need to flourish economically, NACo reports.
Vilsack also made several announcements to support the Obama administration’s rural development goals:
- USDA signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Small Business Administration to outline a collaborative approach for supporting small businesses in rural America.
- USDA is seeking applications to support rural microentrepreneurs and microenterprises, which will provide $45.1 million to encourage lending to start-up business ventures. Funding is available from USDA’s Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program. Counties are not eligible despite lobbying efforts by NACo, but can partner with nonprofit organizations to offer these resources in their counties.
- USDA announced $22.5 million in funding for recipients in 45 states to receive business development assistance and pursue marketing opportunities for agricultural commodities through USDA’s Value-Added Producer Grant program.
- USDA announced $6.7 million in grant and loan funding to recipients in 10 states that will promote job creation through USDA Rural Development’s Intermediary Relending Program and the Rural Economic Development Loan and Grant program.
Don Larson, Chair of NACo’s Agriculture and Rural Affairs Steering Committee, provided the opening response to Vilsick’s speech.
“NACo supports a strategy that maintains agriculture at the heart of the rural economy, but emphasizes the need to create a companion rural economy that is diversified and will allow youth and young adults to stay and return to our rural communities,”
“Infrastructure development remains one of the most significant roadblocks to economic development and competitiveness in rural America,” Larson said. “Resources should not only focus on new opportunities such as rural broadband deployment and rural renewable energy development, but must build and maintain traditional rural infrastructure, such as water-wastewater infrastructure, community facilities, rural housing, business incubators, roads and bridges.”