MARTIN, Tenn., Mar 06, 2014 -- Agriculture Deputy Under Secretary Doug O’Brien today 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.
“Working together the Northwest Tennessee Entrepreneur Center, UT Martin, Memphis Bioworks Foundation, and USDA help leverage the region’s natural strengths and assets,” said O’Brien. “Growing innovative businesses like these that are built on the strengths of the local ag-economy means the good jobs created are a natural fit for rural areas.”
USDA has partnered with University of Tennessee at Martin (UTM), Dyersburg State Community College (DSCC), Memphis Bioworks Foundation, the state of Tennessee and local industry to help create a healthy business climate in 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 visit to NTEC in Martin, Tenn., O’Brien met with many of the creative minds behind start-up businesses that are benefiting from the NextFarm agricultural innovation accelerator and the “Made in Rural America” initiative. This is the first business accelerator in Tennessee targeted to create agriculture-related jobs in the state.
Northwest Tennessee Entrepreneur Center (NTEC) is a public/private organization created as one of the nine regional accelerators through the State’s INCITE initiative. NTEC works to produce new jobs and steady economic growth within a nine-county area 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 Ag-Accelerator has screened 35 business concepts, and accepted five start-ups, four 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 their project, Farm Specific Technology, and how the UTM’s College of Agriculture works to grow young entrepreneurs as well as traditional farmers and ranchers.
On Thursday morning, 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 Associate of Applied Science Degree program has been developed in partnership with Unilever and other area businesses to educate a world class workforce for manufacturers in this region.”
The initiative includes a High School Dual Enrollment Advanced Integrated Industrial Technology (AIIT) program that enables eligible juniors and seniors to earn college credit before they graduate and creates awareness of career opportunities modern manufacturing. Currently, 29 dual enrollment students from Brighton and Covington High Schools are taking courses at DSCC's Jimmy Naifeh Center in Tipton County. 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.
Other federal and local officials participating in the events included Delta Regional Authority Federal Co-Chair Chris Massingill, USDA Rural Development State Director Bobby Goode, UTM Dean of the College of Agriculture Todd Winters, DSCC President Karen Bowyer, NTEC Executive Director Carol Reed, Sen. Lamar Alexander’s Representative Ivy Fultz, Sen. Bob Corker’s Representative Jennifer Weems, Rep. Stephen Fincher’s Representative Heather Waggoner, Ag Innovation Development Group President/CEO Pete Nelson, and Northwest Tennessee Development District Executive Director John Bucy.
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.