LEXINGTON, Ky. — Acting Assistant to the Secretary for Rural Development Joel Baxley recently announced the names of 47 rural communities and regions that will receive technical assistance to help create and implement long-term economic development plans.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture is providing the assistance through an initiative called Rural Economic Development Innovation, REDI. USDA’s Innovation Center created REDI to support recommendations identified in the report to the president from the Interagency Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity.
Each of the 47 communities and regions will be paired with one of four partner organizations that will provide free technical assistance for up to two years to help them create and implement economic development plans. USDA awarded $1.2 million in cooperative agreements to these partners in September 2018, which will help the partners finance the free technical assistance.
The partners are the University of Kentucky’s Community and Economic Development Initiative of Kentucky (CEDIK); Purdue University Extension; the National Association of Counties Research Foundation; the Rural Community Assistance Partnership; and McClure Engineering Company.
“USDA and its partners are bringing local leaders and economic development experts together to create opportunity in some of the nation’s most economically challenged rural communities,” Baxley said. “Under the leadership of President Trump and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, USDA is committed to building prosperity in America’s rural cities and towns.”
CEDIK and Purdue University’s Center for Regional Development will support eight communities and regions in the South and north central U.S. to help them build long-term economic development plans by leveraging public and private funding sources. CEDIK will work with regions in Kentucky, Florida, Alabama and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
In Kevil, Ky., Influencers of the Confluence was selected to participate in the program. The group represents multiple counties in Kentucky, Illinois and Missouri and is focusing on identifying strategies to retain youth in the region, which include exploring workforce and economic development issues across state lines.
Alison Davis, CEDIK’s executive director, said the assistance CEDIK will provide will be a combination of virtual and face-to-face training and information.
“It will entail providing a fair amount of data access describing their current situation, walking them through strategic planning, trying to create formal partnerships and collaborations where they do not presently exist, helping them identify funding sources, as well as implementing something out of the plan that can get them moving in a forward trajectory,” said Davis, who is a professor in the UK Department of Agricultural Economics. “I really like working in our far west counties, so I’m excited that they put forward a good application and were selected.”
Western Kentucky generally doesn’t have nearly the number of technical assistance providers that are in Appalachia, Davis said.
“They really have bootstrapped themselves and done a lot on their own, so we’re happy to provide support, in partnership with Kentucky’s USDA Rural Development office, in any way we can be useful to them,” she said.
The hope is for the region to leverage what they’ve learned from this program to attract private and public investment to the area. Despite the program’s short time window, Davis said CEDIK will be there for them for the long haul.
In April 2017, Trump established the Interagency Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity to identify legislative, regulatory and policy changes that could promote agriculture and prosperity in rural communities. In January 2018, Perdue presented the task force’s findings to the president. These findings included 31 recommendations to align the federal government with state, local and tribal governments to take advantage of existing opportunities in rural America.
To view the categories of the recommendations, view the Rural Prosperity infographic at www.usda.gov/sites/default/files/documents/rural-task-force-infographic.pdf.
USDA Rural Development provides loans and grants to help expand economic opportunities and create jobs in rural areas. This assistance supports infrastructure improvements; business development; housing; community facilities such as schools, public safety and health care; and high-speed internet access in rural areas. For more information, visit www.rd.usda.gov/.
CEDIK is part of the UK College of Agriculture, Food and Environment. More information about the initiative and its programs is available online at http://cedik.ca.uky.edu/.