Martin, Tenn.,, Mar 05, 2014 -- Agriculture Deputy Under Secretary Doug O’Brien this week visited West Tennessee to highlight two innovative public/private jobs initiatives and demonstrate how USDA partners with local entrepreneurs, educators, businesses and community leaders to create jobs and economic opportunity in the rural communities.
“By working with organizations like the Northwest Tennessee Entrepreneur Center, UT Martin, Memphis Bioworks, USDA helps leverage the region’s natural strengths and assets,” said O’Brien. “Innovative businesses that are built on the strength of the local ag-economy means good jobs in rural areas.”
In northwest Tennessee USDA has partnered with the University of Tennessee at Martin (UTM), Dyersburg State Community College (DSCC), Memphis Bioworks Foundation, State agencies and local industry to help build a healthy business climate in the region’s rural communities. USDA also works with private lenders in West Tennessee to increase the pool of capital available for new and existing businesses.
During his stop Wednesday at the Northwest Tennessee Entrepreneur Center (NTEC) in Martin, Tenn., O’Brien met with many of the creative minds behind start-up businesses that are benefiting from NTEC’s NextFarm Agricultural Innovation Accelerator. NTEC is part of the State’s LaunchTN initiative and is the first business accelerator in Tennessee targeted to create agriculture-related jobs in the state.
NextFarm is a private/public partnership of NTEC, Memphis Bioworks and Ag Innovation Group working with local business leaders and UTM College of Agriculture to produce new Ag-tech sector jobs and steady economic growth in the region by providing mentoring, education and training, strategic and technical support, and assistance in identifying sources of capital for entrepreneurs.
In the first 10 months of operation, the NextFarm board and mentors have screened 35 business concepts and accepted five entrepreneurs for start-up assistance, four existing companies for the growth track and three student teams into the program. The accelerator is expected to work with a wide range of agriculture-related technologies including bio-based products, food processing and safety, precision agriculture and software, smart phone/tablet apps, livestock reproduction and nutrition, identity preservation and new crops.
Local entrepreneurs Chris Ramezanpour of Secure Food Solutions and Sara Bellos of Stony Creek Colors demonstrated their prototype products and discussed how having an accelerator located in a rural farm region benefits their respective companies. The UTM Collegiate Team of Austin Scott, Shawn Butler and Daniel Wiggins discussed the first product in development for their company Farm Specific Technology and how the UTM’s College of Agriculture is using research to grow young entrepreneurs as well as educating future farmers and ranchers.
O’Brien said, “This kind of innovative regional partnership fits well with the Made in Rural America initiative recently launched by the President to bring more focus and support for manufacturing in rural areas.” He said that the initiative aims to improve coordination of federal programs that support workforce development and expand access to export markets.
On Thursday, O’Brien joined faculty and business partners for a tour of the Advanced Manufacturing Program at DSCC. The initiative trains students and workers for advanced manufacturing jobs in Tipton and Dyer counties that require strong math and science skills.
O’Brien noted that having an educated workforce is as important to industrial development and the economic health of rural communities as having good land, infrastructure and public services. “The nature of manufacturing is changing and those communities with workers capable of adapting to the changes will attract and grow good jobs,” he said.
According to DSCC President Karen Bowyer, “The new Associate of Applied Science Degree and program has been developed in partnership with local industries to match up training with jobs at manufactures in the region.”
“Partners like Unilever, Caterpillar, Nordyne, Mueller, ERMCO and many local manufactures are helping us educate a world class workforce for manufacturers in this region,” said Bowyer.
The initiative includes a High School Dual Enrollment Advanced Integrated Industrial Technology (AIIT) program that enables eligible juniors and seniors in Tipton and Lauderdale Counties to earn college credit before they graduate and creates awareness of career opportunities in modern manufacturing. Currently, 29 dual enrollment students from Brighton and Covington High Schools are taking part. In all DSCC has added four stackable certificates in fields now in demand by local manufacturers: Certified Production Technician, Mechatronics Industrial Electricity, Mechatronics Programmable Logic Controller, Mechatronics Mechanical Components.
Delta Regional Authority Federal Co-Chair Chris Massingill participated in the event and summed up the meeting with a quote he credits to Tenn. Governor Bill Haslam saying, “In economic development it’s no longer about K through 12, it is K through job that matters to the people we serve.”
Other officials participating in the events included, Sen. Bob Corker’s Representative Nick Kistenmacher, Rep. Stephen Fincher’s Representatives Ivy Fultz and Chris Connelly, UTM Dean of the College of Agriculture Todd Winters, NTEC Executive Director Carol Reed and board members Bob Page and Mike Brundige, Ag Innovation Development Group President/CEO Pete Nelson, Northwest Tennessee Development District Executive Director John Bucy and USDA Rural Development State Director Bobby Goode.
USDA Rural Development invests in jobs, infrastructure, community development, health, education, homeownership and affordable rental housing to improve the economic health of rural communities. During the last four years the agency has assisted more than 1.5 million Tennessee families and businesses in 158 communities, investing more than $3.7 Billion into local economies through affordable loans, loan guarantees and grants.
President Obama’s plan for rural America has brought about historic investment and resulted in stronger rural communities. Under the President’s leadership, these investments in housing, community facilities, businesses and infrastructure have empowered rural America to continue leading the way – strengthening America’s economy, small towns and rural communities. USDA’s investments in rural communities support the rural way of life that stands as the backbone of our American values.