Cooperatives in the U.S. will benefit from a new federal investment meant to support local businesses, create good-paying jobs and strengthen the economy in rural America.
U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack this month announced a funding package of $1.4 billion for rural economies in the country, 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 centers. Thirty organizations are receiving funds to help them support the development of co-ops in rural areas, including the California Center For Cooperative Development and the Montana Cooperative Development Center, who are both being awarded $200,000.
In California, the Democracy at Work Institute will use a $200,000 Rural Cooperative Development Grant to provide technical assistance to worker-owned cooperative groups, ultimately creating 17 jobs and saving another 41 in rural areas. The organization will assist dozens of cooperatives and rural businesses as well as work with Native American and Native Alaskan groups that are organizing cooperative projects in rural California, Alaska and South Dakota.
A number of co-ops will also benefit from the Rural Economic Development Loan and Grant program. 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 programs are part of a suite of business and cooperative services that are expected to help create or save upwards of 50,000 jobs in rural America.
In the USDA’s February 2 press release, Secretary Vilsack said the investment underscores the Biden-Harris Administration’s commitment to generating high-paying jobs and economic opportunities where people need it most.
“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,” Vilsack said. “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.”
NCBA CLUSA president and CEO Doug O’Brien congratulated the cooperatives and co-op organizations that were awarded grants and thanked USDA for recognizing the value that cooperatives bring to a community.
“Co-ops have a rich history in rural America, where they continue to build and grow more inclusive economies,” O’Brien said. “This announcement shows that the cooperative business model remains a critical tool to drive locally-tailored solutions—from caregiving and housing to agriculture and beyond.”
“This announcement shows that the cooperative business model remains a critical tool to drive locally-tailored solutions—from caregiving and housing to agriculture and beyond.” – Doug O’Brien