Collaboration between the U.S. Department of Commerce's Economic Development Administration, the USDA, the Delta Regional Authority and the Appalachian Regional Commission will provide grants to thirteen businesses and projects to facilitate job growth and innovation among small and rural communities.
Sixty-two applications were examined for the thirteen spots in the Rural Jobs Challenge program. Winners were announced Wednesday.
The program is a national initiative to provide businesses with research and development support to increase capital, hire and train workers and create jobs. By leveraging local assets, the selected industry clusters and partnerships can help entrepreneurs and small businesses foster innovation and increase competitiveness, which is critical to long-term economic growth in their regions.
In a teleconference Wednesday, Deputy Under Secretary for USDA Rural Development Doug O'Brien said the program was also a way to improve rural infrastructure and support local food systems.
"We are focusing on how we can use our current funding streams to support small entrepreneurs who are learning how to take advantage of this increased interest in local and regional foods," O'Brien said. "Many times what we hear is that what is lacking in rural places is not demand, but it's that infrastructure in between."
He said the innovators program will ensure improvements will be made to capture economic opportunities for local food.
O'Brien said another aspect of the initiative is tourism.
"People in rural America know that rural America is a great place to live," O'Brien said. "It's a great place to live for so many reasons—the strong values, the economic opportunities that are emerging, and also because of the local culture."
O'Brien said that those cultural assets are being used to leverage tourism and bring economic boosts to rural areas.