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USDA Grant Targets Small Business Development in Rural Missouri

Main Street
Alan Levine

Over $200,000 in grant money will provide technical assistance for economic development strategies in a dozen Missouri communities.

The funding, announced Wednesday by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), is part of $7.6 million in grants nationwide to support job training in rural America.

The grant recipient is Missouri Main Street Connection, based in Branson. Recipients are required to provide matching funds. U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack tells KSMU the money will assist local businesses in retention, microenterprise recruitment and community sustainability.

For example, he said, “A very, very small business that might employ one or two people might get some technical assistance to figure out ‘How do I set up a business, what’s the business plan, where’s the market, how can I succeed?’”

Or, he says, there may be an existing business that needs help to “refresh itself” to retain or expand small business development.

The competitive grants are awarded based on need and distributed to areas that are persistently poor, says Vilsack. He adds that USDA attempts to provide 20 percent of its rural development resources to counties that have poverty rates of 20 percent or more.

Many of the communities impacted by this grant are in northern Missouri. Willow Springs, located in Howell County, is one local community the Main Street Connection is targeting. According to the USDA, the city is among the participants in its StrikeForce for Rural Growth and Opportunity initiative. Using census data, the program identifies persistently poor regions ensure access to the federal agency’s various economic programs.

The cities of Clinton and Bulter were also among the communities to be assisted through the grant.

Vilsack says the logistics of starting a business can be daunting for aspiring entrepreneurs, and the help provided by these economic development organizations can empower others. 

“What that does I think is it sends a sense of hope in a community to see an new business form or to see an existing business that may be struggling refresh itself and a new level of energy which encourages people to consider for themselves business development.” 

Vilsack attributes economic growth in part to the organizations receiving these grants; cooperative and community-based economic development organizations. He says rural unemployment is currently at its lowest level since 2007, with rural incomes growing by 3.4 percent last year.

The just over $210,000 for Missouri from the USDA is awarded through the Socially Disadvantaged Groups Grant and Rural Community Development Initiative (RCDI) programs.