Memphis Bioworks Foundation grants will boost entrepreneurship

As I previously reported in The Commercial Appeal, Memphis Bioworks foundation is the recipient of a couple grants that will be used to boost entrepreneurship among veterans and to increase entrepreneurial opportunites in rural areas.

The U.S. Dept. of Agrigulture secretary made the official announcement about the new grants earlier to day and Rural Business-Cooperative Service Administrator Lillian Salerno was in Memphis at the Bioworks facility this morning for hte official release.

More information has just been released by the USDA – here are the details: 

MEMPHIS, TN., July 31, 2013 – Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced that projects in 30 states and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico will be funded to support small and emerging rural businesses. Today’s announcement is one part of the Department’s efforts to strengthen the rural economy.

Rural Business-Cooperative Service Administrator Lillian Salerno made the announcement on behalf of Secretary Vilsack during a visit to highlight the activities of the Memphis Bioworks Foundation, Inc., regarding an ongoing project that was previously announced.

“The Administration has been working to create economic opportunities in rural communities and bring well-paying jobs to the people that live there,” Salerno said. “Strategic investments in rural businesses like the ones we are highlighting today not only help to deliver more products and services to local customers, they also contribute to rural revitalization and economic development in the small towns where these businesses are located.”

The funding was made available through the Rural Business Enterprise Grant (RBEG) program, which promotes development of small and emerging businesses in rural areas. RBEGs may also be used to help fund distance learning networks and employment-related adult education programs. Eligible applicants for the program include public bodies, nonprofit corporations and federally recognized Indian Tribes. Since 2008, the RBEG program has helped create or save more than 73,000 rural jobs, provided over $170.9 million in economic development assistance, improved manufacturing capability, and expanded health care and educational facilities, and has either expanded or helped establish almost 41,070 rural businesses and community projects.

Salerno visited Memphis Bioworks Foundation, a recipient of a $45,000 grant being utilized in partnership with the Crockett Policy Institute to expand efforts to help returning veterans in west Tennessee find employment. The “Soldier to Civilian” (S2C) project helps rural areas meet the need for qualified precision agriculture workers in the area. Memphis Bioworks has teamed with the Institute on the S2C project, and the grant will enable the program to be extended to 110 counties in the Delta areas of Arkansas, Mississippi and Tennessee.

Memphis Bioworks also received a $15,000 grant under the program to support the development of bio-based product business enterprises in the area.

Additionally, five other Tennessee businesses received funds from the announcement.

South Central Tennessee Development District received a $25,056 grant that will be used to purchase technological equipment aimed at attracting new businesses to the area. The project will improve their business development model and expand recruitment and retention efforts throughout the 13 county area.

Hickman County Economic and Community Development Association received a $6,500 grant that will be used to enhance their marketing tools to showcase the offerings of the county. The efforts will improve their overall economic development plan to bring business to the area.

Lafayette-Macon County Chamber of Commerce received a $9,076 grant that will be used to repair the Macon County Welcome Center. The funding will help create a user-friendly center that will allow Chamber staff to better serve the residents, businesses and visitors of the county.

East Tennessee Development District received a $15,000 grant to assist in developing leadership opportunities in the area. The East Tennessee Rural Leadership classes help unite existing and emerging businesses in the region and help local leaders enhance their leadership efforts in the area.

The city of Lafayette received a $25,000 grant that will be used to assist in the renovation of sidewalks in the downtown area. The new sidewalks will allow better access to local businesses for visitors as well as local customers.

“Small businesses are the backbone to many rural economies,” said USDA Rural Development State Director Bobby Goode. “Providing avenues for new entrepreneurs to learn and grow their businesses with the help of investors and mentors paves the road for long-term growth in the region.”

A complete list of today’s announcement can be found here. In all, 131 recipients across the nation are receiving more than $6.5 million in USDA funding. The funding is contingent upon the recipients meeting the terms of the grant agreement.

In addition to announcing the nationwide grant recipients, Salerno also visited Dyersburg State Community College where she announced a $23,500 grant that will assist the college with purchasing lab equipment for the Advanced Manufacturing Program. The new equipment will allow for improved training geared specifically at assisting small and emerging businesses in seven counties meet the manufacturing needs of the region.

Rural Development business programs help local governments and non-profit organizations improve business infrastructure and promote job growth. Business loans provide needed financing for rural businesses and loan-guarantees are also available to help private lenders increase the pool of investment capital available for business start-up, modernization and expansion in eligible rural areas.

USDA Rural Development invests in jobs, infrastructure, community development, 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 $3.3 Billion into local economies through affordable loans, loan guarantees and grants.

USDA has already undertaken historic efforts since 2009 to save more than $700 million in taxpayer funds through targeted, common-sense budget reductions. These reductions have put USDA in a better position to carry out its mission, while implementing the across-the-board budget reductions mandated under terms of the Budget Control Act in a fair manner that causes as little disruption as possible.

More information on USDA Rural Development programs and local field office contacts is available online at


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