Secretary Vilsack Launches USDA “StrikeForce” Initiative to Boost Rural Economic Growth and Opportunity in 10 Additional States including Arkansas
Little Rock, AR, April 15, 2013 — Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack recently announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) launched its ”StrikeForce” Initiative in 10 additional states: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, North Carolina, North Dakota, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah and Virginia. The primary goal of the StrikeForce Initiative is to increase partnerships with rural communities and leverage community resources in targeted, persistent poverty communities. Vilsack noted that through the StrikeForce Initiative, USDA will do more to partner with local and state governments and community organizations on projects that promote economic development and job creation.
The StrikeForce Initiative started as a pilot project in 2010 in selected regions in three states: Arkansas, Georgia and Mississippi. In 2011, it was expanded to include Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada. Participants in the StrikeForce Initiative include Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), Rural Development, Farm Service Agency, Food and Nutrition Service and other USDA offices and agencies.
“During my travels across the country, I’ve heard mayors and other community leaders say they have a hard time competing for USDA loan and grant programs,” said Vilsack. “They have a plan to develop a new business or create jobs in their regions, but they lack development capital and they view our application and review processes as a barrier. StrikeForce changes that. By increasing outreach and technical assistance to communities, we can serve as better partners and help communities leverage resources.”
To identify persistent poverty counties, USDA identifies census tracts with over 20 percent poverty (according to the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey data) to identify sub-county pockets of poverty. As areas of persistent poverty are identified, USDA staff work with state, local and community officials to increase awareness of USDA programs, and help build program participation.
The StrikeForce Initiative counties in Arkansas are: Arkansas, Bradley, Chicot, Clark, Columbia, Dallas, Desha, Drew, Hempstead, Howard, Jackson, Lafayette, Lawrence, Lee, Mississippi, Monroe, Nevada, Newton, Ouachita, Phillips, Randolph, Searcy, Sevier, St. Francis, and Woodruff.
“We are proud Arkansas was chosen as one of the pilot states for the StrikeForce Initiative and proud to see it launch in other states around the country,” said NRCS Acting State Conservationist Doris Washington. “Since its inception, the StrikeForce Initiative has helped us direct additional resources to better serve producers in the 25 identified persistent poverty counties and accelerate implementation of conservation practices on their land. Arkansas farmers, ranchers and foresters face many unique challenges and every day, we’re working to provide financial and technical assistance to help those in persistent poverty, rural communities prosper.”
Secretary Vilsack noted in his announcement that often USDA conducts special outreach activities in an area, and that since 2010, USDA has partnered with over 400 local community based organizations to promote local or regional development projects.
The StrikeForce Initiative has already had an impact in Arkansas. StrikeForce is tackling food insecurity and access to healthy food. USDA established a partnership with Heifer International through the East Arkansas Enterprise Community in Forrest City. This partnership is developing a sustainable food system in order to address existing food deserts in a nine-county area in the Mississippi Delta region.
Visit www.usda.gov/StrikeForce to learn more. Landowners wanting additional information about the StrikeForce Initiative should contact their local USDA Service Center listed in the phonebook under U.S. Government, or contact Charlie Williams, USDA StrikeForce leader, at 870-814-3052 or firstname.lastname@example.org.