USDA Rural Development funding benefits Central Appalachia

A recent report from USDA Rural Development describes how the agency has used funding provided by the Recovery Act to work toward meeting its goal of ensuring that rural areas are creating wealth and thriving economically. USDA Rural Development received over $21 billion in Recovery Act funding. According to the report, its total Recovery Act investments created or saved more than 300,000 jobs for rural residents as of September 30, 2010.

Following is a break-down of state-by-state awards of USDA Rural Development Recovery Act funding in Central Appalachia.

Kentucky: $770,039,979
North Carolina: $1,305,007,257
Ohio: $554,041,941
Virginia: $660,430,335
West Virginia: $297,734,215

The report also highlights some of Rural Development’s efforts under the Recovery Act to modernize, renew, and rebuild rural communities across the country. Here is an excerpt from a story focusing on efforts in Tennessee.

Rural Tennesseans Benefit from Computer and Workforce Training

The modern day job search is increasingly an online effort, which puts those without access to the Internet at a substantial disadvantage. For many older adults looking for employment, the barrier is even greater if they lack access to the Internet and the computer skills. Thanks to a Recovery Act-funded grant awarded to the Northwest Tennessee Human Resources Agency (NWTHRA) in the little town of Dresden, older adults and displaced workers now have access to a computer center and a work force training curriculum designed especially for them.

The idea for developing a computer lab for seniors came to NWTHRA staff when an older client found a good job opportunity with a national home and garden store. According to staff, “He had the skills necessary for a job in the garden department. But, he was unable to complete the required online application, because he was unfamiliar with computers.”

NWTHRA staff worked with their local Rural Development office to secure the $30,000 Rural Business and Enterprise Grant, which funded the purchase of equipment and materials needed to establish a senior-friendly computer lab and to rehabilitate a centrally located classroom space in an old county-owned school building. The center opened in January 2010 with a class of 10 older adults. One student said, “At that first session, I was surprised and comforted that there were others my age in the class who were as inexperienced as I. As we began working through the program together my excitement grew as I learned to use my mouse, keyboard, e-mail, and when I learned to search the Internet.” Now students take a range of classes and join “Job Clubs” to help each other build their resumes, develop cover letters, and submit online job applications.

In the short time the lab has been open, more than 200 seniors have already learned skills they need to compete in today’s job market and many come back to take advantage of more advanced classes. Local businesses are also using the lab for employee training, an opportunity that used to require costly time-loss and travel to Memphis two-and-a-half hours down the road. The program has been such an immediate success and demand for the services so great that NWTHRA has already invested in 11 additional computers, more curriculum and equipment to create satellite centers in other counties.

NWTHRA Executive Director John Bucy said there were other immediate benefits from the Recovery Act investment as well,”A local painter had been out of work but picked up other jobs through contacts made while painting the computer lab. Computers, specialized tables and flooring were bought at local suppliers and installed by local contractors.”

Kristin Tracz

About Kristin Tracz

Kristin Tracz served MACED’s Research and Policy team from 2009-2012 working on clean energy policy, energy efficiency programs and the Appalachian Transition Initiative. She joined MACED after finishing her Master of Environmental Management degree at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies. She now lives and works in Washington, DC.