The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has invited rural communities to apply for planning assistance to develop strategies that help grow the economy and revitalize downtown neighborhoods. EPA is offering this assistance as part of Rural Advantage, a suite of federal economic development planning assistance programs for rural communities.
“Rural Advantage is helping communities reinvent themselves in ways that are good for the economy and the environment,” said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. “We are excited to partner with communities that want to use their unique rural assets to create a brighter, healthier future.
Communities may apply for assistance through the following programs:
• Local Foods, Local Places, which helps communities leverage local food enterprise to diversify their economy and renew their downtowns.
• Cool & Connected, which helps communities use broadband service to create walkable, connected, economically successful neighborhoods.
• Healthy Places for Healthy People, a new program that will help communities partner with health care facilities to catalyze downtown revitalization and to improve options for healthy living and economic opportunity.
Rural Advantage is part of the Obama Administration's commitment to place-based strategies to help communities develop competitive advantages. In these places, federal experts are working side by side with residents and local leaders to create customized solutions, bolstering coordination across agencies and improving how we interact with and serve community partners.
Under the Obama Administration, EPA and federal partners have provided rural advantage assistance to 83 communities, to date. Sixty-eight communities have been selected for assistance through Local Foods, Local Places, and 15 communities have received assistance through Cool & Connected, ten of which are in Appalachia.
In 2012, Williamson, West Virginia was selected to participate in the Livable Communities in Appalachia program, the predecessor to LFLP. Through that effort, a team of small-town development experts worked with Sustainable Williamson to create an action plan tailored to achieving the town’s goals, including improving access to food to realize better health outcomes.
Upon implementing the plan, Sustainable Williamson received an $80,000 planning grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Health Resources and Services Administration. That grant helped create a Federally Qualified Health Center that later received an additional $650,000 to support clinic operations. Sustainable Williamson also established a downtown farmers’ market and community garden that increased access to healthy foods for Williamson residents. The Williamson Health and Wellness Center also received LFLP assistance, in 2015, to provide support to new entrepreneurs starting up their businesses in the local food and health care sectors, and to expand the community’s innovative approaches to creating a culture of health.
In Montrose County, the Cool & Connected action plan helped advance Proximity Space, an award-winning coworking project, and link it to the community’s efforts to build a walkable and investment-ready downtown. Coworking space allows people to access high-speed internet, conference rooms, and office equipment, and is one of many ways that small towns can leverage broadband to boost main street development.
Communities selected for this latest round of assistance will work with an EPA-supported team of experts, including through a two-day workshop, to develop strategies and action plans that enable them to realize their local revitalization goals. The team will include people with expertise in community development, and representatives of the federal agencies that sponsor the three programs so communities can build connections and take better advantage of federal programs and resources.
Working with federal partners, EPA will select thirty or more communities for assistance through a competitive process.
EPA’s Rural Advantage federal partners are the United States Departments of Agriculture, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, and Transportation, the Appalachian Regional Commission, the Delta Regional Authority and the Economic Development Administration.
Communities may apply by submitting letters of interest by November 6. For more information and to submit an application, see: https://www.epa.gov/smartgrowth