Co-ops in rural America to benefit from USDA funding

The funds aim to move rural America from an extraction economy to a circular economy

Co-operatives in the US are to benefit from government funding aimed at building wealth in the country’s rural communities.

Department of Agriculture secretary Tom Vilsack announced last week a funding package of US$1.4bn for rural economies in the US, which will go towards training, business loans and technical support.

The funding will be distributed across 49 states via eight programs. At least half of these programs will directly assist co-ops: the Rural Cooperative Development Grant, the Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program, the Value Added Producer Grants and the Rural Economic Development Loan and Grant Program. 

Another $5.8m is being awarded via the The Rural Cooperative Development Grant Program, which funds nonprofit corporations and higher education institutions to develop and operate rural co-op development centres. Thirty organisations are receiving funds to help them support the development of co-ops in rural areas, such as the California Center For Cooperative Development and the Montana Cooperative Development Center, who are both being awarded $200,000. 

A number of co-ops will also benefit from the Rural Economic Development Loan and Grant programme. For example, Pella Cooperative Electric Association in Iowa, is receiving $300,000 for its loan fund, to facilitate the construction of a women’s housing and health care facility.

The USDA says that the programmes are part of a suite of business and co-operative services that are expected to help create or save over 50,000 jobs in rural America.

Mr Vilsack said: “For some time, rural America has been at the mercy of an extraction economy, where resources are taken from rural lands only to create jobs and economic opportunity in urban and suburban areas. That’s why USDA is committed to doing what we can to change that extraction economy into a circular economy, where value is added closer to home, so the wealth created in rural areas stays in rural areas.”

Doug O’Brien, president and CEO of the National Cooperative Business Association (NCBA CLUSA), said: “NCBA CLUSA congratulates the co-operatives and co-op development organisations on their grant awards and appreciates USDA recognising the value that co-operatives bring to a community.

“Co-ops have a rich history in rural America, where they continue to build and grow more inclusive economies. This announcement shows that the co-operative business model remains a critical tool to drive locally-tailored solutions – from caregiving and housing to agriculture and beyond.”

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