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The Rural Jobs and Innovation Accelerator Challenge: A Coordinated Initiative to Advance Regional Competitiveness

The FY 2012 Rural Jobs and Innovation Accelerator Challenge is a grant competition providing funding and technical assistance to support the development of industry clusters in 13 rural regions across the United States. Its overall objective is to help rural communities accelerate job creation by leveraging local assets, building stronger communities, and creating regional linkages.

The primary (national) funding agencies for the Accelerator challenge are the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Commerce's Economic Development Administration. The Appalachian Regional Commission and the Delta Regional Authority are both regional funding partners in the challenge.

On August 1, 2012, the Obama administration announced that 13 projects were selected to receive a total of $9 million through the grant competition. Five of the winning projects are located in Appalachia; they will receive a total of more than $4.2 million in funding from both the national and regional funding partners. ARC grant funds must be used to address gaps in a community's or region's entrepreneurial ecosystem, thereby promoting the growth and development of the project's industry clusters.

The five winning Appalachian projects are:

  • Accelerating Jobs and Innovation through Community and Economic Development in Rural Mississippi, a project of Mississippi State University, Starkville, Mississippi: $1,065,000. The project will link the region's existing small businesses and entrepreneurs into the region's strategic clusters through networking-oriented conferences at each of the sub-regional hubs. It will focus on connecting minority and underrepresented groups into the economic vitality of the clusters and identifying strong growth prospects from the region's existing industry through ongoing existing business assessments. In addition, the project will work with the region's community leaders to develop action programs that provide detailed analysis of key clusters (i.e. automotive, furniture, and agribusiness) so that specific growth opportunities emerge, and leaders are able to take part in new opportunities.

  • WNC AgriVentures—Cultivating Jobs and Innovation Project, a partnership of Western North Carolina Regional Economic Development Non-Profit Corporation (AdvantageWest Economic Development Group), Fletcher, North Carolina; and Land-of-Sky Regional Council, Asheville, North Carolina: $815,000. The project will assist the sustainable agriculture and natural resources clusters by developing planning, feasibility studies, and small pilot programs to identify and promote investment in major supply chain opportunities and provide western North Carolina businesses with access to new technology from regional universities and other research and development centers.

  • Appalachian Spring: Using Asset-Based and Creative Economy Methods to Catalyze Rural Job Acceleration, a project of 'Round the Mountain: Southwest Virginia's Artisan Network, Abingdon, Virginia: $815,000. The project will focus on integrating downtown revitalization plans with cultural and natural assets of the region to foster resources for asset growth and job creation. It will promote sustainable economic development of the region's communities by assisting local artisans with marketing, educational, and entrepreneurial opportunities. Further, the project will assist in the expansion of cultural heritage ventures and initiatives related to tourism and other asset-based enterprises, including the Southwest Virginia Artisan Center, the Crooked Road, 'Round the Mountain, and related cultural heritage organizations and venues that promote entrepreneurial and employment opportunities.

  • Southern West Virginia Rural Jobs Accelerator Partnership, a project of Marshall University Research Corporation, Huntington, West Virginia: $717,985. This partnership will assist counties in southern West Virginia by providing technical assistance, workforce development, entrepreneurial support, and a wealth of collaborated resources to rejuvenate existing regional assets, build stronger economies, and create regional linkages to foster economic growth in tourism and advanced manufacturing. Activities will include: 1) training to develop a workforce with high-end skill sets; 2) fast-track certification and degree programs for job seekers in advanced manufacturing; 3) training, financial assistance, and technology transfer to empower small-to-medium-sized businesses and budding entrepreneurs in advanced manufacturing and tourism; 4) grantsmanship assistance to community governments and organizations; 5) mobile app development and ebusiness marketing assistance; and 6) targeted assistance for growing the tourism and advanced manufacturing clusters.

  • West Virginia Value Chain Cluster Initiative, a project of the Natural Capital Investment Fund, Shepherdstown, West Virginia: $815,000. Funds will be used to provide technical assistance to food businesses in expanding their access to new markets and buyers, and to build a stronger network that promotes new regional business linkages. The project will identify new businesses in food-related clusters, provide technical assistance and coaching services to strengthen management, operations, and financial expertise, offer access to capital, provide advice on technological improvements, assist in new business development, and share best practices among cluster members, to raise income levels and create new job opportunities.

For more information, visit the Rural Jobs and Innovation Accelerator Challenge Web Site.