Guest blog post by Matt Erskine , Acting Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development
Over the last three and a half years, President Obama has been committed to investing in efforts that strengthen rural economies, create jobs, support business growth, and expand opportunity for rural Americans.
Today, the administration announced the 13 winners of a key component of this goal, the Rural Jobs and Innovation Accelerator Challenge . Economic development partnerships and initiatives in Alaska, Arkansas, Connecticut, Illinois, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Hampshire, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia will receive awards ranging from nearly $200,000 to more than $1 million.
The projects will promote job creation, accelerate innovation, and provide assistance to entrepreneurs and businesses in a wide range of industrial sectors, including advanced manufacturing, agribusiness, energy and natural resources, technology, and tourism. They range from the Bristol Bay Jobs Accelerator in Alaska, a job training initiative put together by a consortium of 31 Alaskan tribes that will support a fisheries and seafood processing industry cluster; to the I-20 Corridor Regional Accelerator, a project involving the collaboration of institutions in Louisiana and Arkansas to promote science and technology clusters in these states; to the “Project 17: Together We Stand,” a 17-county business development effort led by Kansas State University.
They are all great public-private partnerships and I congratulate all the winners. As a native of Virginia, I did take notice of the Appalachian Spring project. This is a collaboration of several economic development groups in Virginia, including four planning districts and commissions; the Southwest Virginia Cultural Heritage Foundation and its affiliated nonprofits; the Friends of Southwest Virginia; and ’Round The Mountain: Southwest Virginia’s Artisan Network. Together they will implement a strategic and capital plan to substantially catalyze business growth and increase job creation by focusing on the cultural and natural assets of rural Virginia, particularly as they relate to revitalizing downtown areas.
By leveraging local assets, industry clusters and partnerships in these areas will do even more to help entrepreneurs and small businesses foster innovation, increase competitiveness and employ highly skilled workers, all of which are critical to long-term economic growth in their regions. That is the goal of the Rural Jobs Accelerator Challenge, which is the second round of the challenge series.
The 20 rural and urban public-private partnerships from last year’s inaugural Jobs and Innovation Accelerator Challenge secured $13 million in matching funds, some coming from the private sector. They are expected to create more than 4,800 jobs and 300 new businesses.
The projected economic impact of the 13 rural investments announced today is just as significant. Based on grantee estimates, over the short term these winning projects will create or retain 2,990 jobs and leverage $35.5 million in private investment. Over the long term, it is estimated that they will create or retain 6,460 jobs and leverage $69.6 million in private investment.
By drawing on the unique strengths of their individual regions—including their natural resources, built infrastructure, and workforce—and by engaging multiple players—including business leaders, universities and colleges, government at all levels, nonprofits, and other strategic partners—these projects will help assure that America’s rural communities are not just able to survive, but that they grow and thrive.
This multi-agency competition—funded by the Commerce Department’s Economic Development Administration  (EDA), U.S. Department of Agriculture, Appalachian Regional Commission, Delta Regional Authority, and nine other federal agencies—was designed by the Taskforce for the Advancement of Regional Innovation Clusters and the White House Rural Council.
When rural America is growing, the nation as a whole is stronger. These projects will help rural regions maximize their strengths and help businesses located in them to grow and create jobs.