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USDA Jobs and Economic Growth Forum in Muskogee, Oklahoma

Oklahomans gathered in Muskogee, Oklahoma on Tuesday to kick off 2010 by accepting President Obama’s invitation to participate in the development of the next step in his administration’s strategy to create jobs and promote economic growth.  Nearly 50 people joined together on the first business day of 2010 to participate in USDA’s Jobs and Economic Growth Forum.  The forum was organized to offer Oklahomans an opportunity to respond to the seven questions posed by the President.  The group viewed a video welcome message from Deputy Secretary for USDA, Kathleen Merrigan, before delving into what proved to be a lively and productive three hour discussion.

The diversity of the issues discussed was reflective of the diversity of the attendees of the forum.  Representatives from institutions of higher education believed that a job creation and economic growth plan must offer ways to evolve or expand education and training systems to address the current needs of individuals wishing to return to the workforce.  In addition, investments must be made to expand education opportunities to growing sectors of the employment market; they reported that currently the growth is in health careers.

Representatives of youth organizations shared their belief that investing time and resources in the development of youth, especially through programs such as 4-H, FFA, and Junior Achievement type programs, has proven to be beneficial in fostering a good work ethic and developing essential skills to succeed.  Small business owners and technical assistance providers shared their concerns regarding resources available to small businesses as well as infrastructure requirements and availability of technology required to make rural areas competitive.   Representatives of the agriculture industry echoed the need to stimulate job creation stating that agriculture is dependent on off-farm income and on the support of viable communities.  Several elected officials expressed concerns and offered suggestion from their legislative perspectives.

We were very pleased with the group’s participation.  The sincere commitment to work together as Oklahomans to seek solutions to the current economic challenges was evident throughout the forum.  We plan to submit Oklahoma’s answers to the President’s seven questions, as gleaned from the discussion, to US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack for inclusion in his final report to the White House.

Ryan McMullen

Oklahoma State Director, Rural Development

Francie Tolle
State Director, Farm Service Agency

Oklahoma Job forumState Representative Mike Brown – shares that in the current economic conditions, businesses are reluctant to add employees or expand.

Oklahoma Job forum Oklahoma State Director Ryan McMullen addressing the group.

Oklahoma Job forumRepresentatives from the Muscogee Creek Nation (Robert Miller-L black jacket, Claude Sumner-R red jacket) Expressing concerns about the rates and terms associated with obtaining credit.

Maine Jobs Forum Draws a Large Number of Participants

Nearly every seat in the Edmunds Conference Center at Northern Maine Community College, in Presque Isle was filled January 5th for the USDA Community Forum on Jobs and Economic Growth in Maine’s largest and most northern county. The seventeen inches of snow that fell in previous days did not dissuade from excellent attendance at the Forum. In addition to the 50 people seated at the Forum, another 15 people joined the discussion from video-teleconference sites in Houlton and Madawaska, bringing the number of participants to 65. This forum was a follow-up on the Forum on Jobs and Economic Growth held by President Obama on December 3, in Washington.

It was my privilege to welcome the crowd, which featured local economic and community development leaders, college and university presidents, business owners, agricultural producers, and Congressional Staff. The Forum was hosted at Northern Maine Community College and included presentations from USDA Farm Service Agency State Executive Director, Donovan Todd, III, and Northern Maine Community College President, Timothy Crowley; as well as local guest speakers Maine Public Service Company President and CEO, Brent Boyles; Northern Maine Development Commission Executive Director, Robert Clark; and Aurora Mills Owner, Matt Williams.

The important conversations shared among participants centered on creating jobs, growing local businesses, opportunities for economic growth, as well as barriers that need to be addressed in order for Aroostook County to recognize its full potential for economic expansion.

The information provided from the discussion will be summarized and provided to Agriculture Secretary Vilsack and President Obama for consideration.

Maine Jobs ForumUSDA Rural Development State Director Virginia Manuel welcomes a crowd
of 65 at Maine’s January 5th USDA Community Forum on Jobs and Economic Growth

By USDA Rural Development State Director Virginia Manuel

Seeking Game-Changing Solutions to Childhood Obesity

By Aneesh Chopra – Federal Chief Technology Officer

Yesterday the White House Office of Science & Technology Policy (OSTP) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture hosted a workshop to gather insight from leading experts in the fields of gaming and technology to inform the development of a nutrition game-design challenge. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services is preparing to launch the Innovations for Healthy Kids Challenge, a call to American entrepreneurs, software developers, and students to use a recently released USDA nutrition data set to create innovative, fun, and engaging web-based learning applications that motivate kids, especially “tweens” (aged 9-12) and their parents, to eat more healthfully and be more physically active.

Thirty-one experts joined the meeting—some via teleconference—to offer their knowledge and experience related to game design, entertainment technology, social media, and skill contests, in reaction to a previously circulated concept paper outlining key components of the contest.

Our intention here is to invite you to join this discussion. Here are some of the major design-related themes, that emerged from the Workshop, around which we’d like to get input from you:

  • Goal: We discussed the potential for games – powered by nutrition data – to change behavior in our target segment (“tweens” between the ages of 9-12 and their parents). Design questions focused on whether the contest should result in a finished, high-impact game or one that continually evolves over time (“gaming as a service”). How would you recommend we address this question in the design of our contest?

  • Incentives: We discussed government limitations on the size of the prize ($3,000 – a purse we’ve awarded in public service announcement contests as well). Design questions focused on the degree to which other stakeholders might supplement the prize with privately raised funds; develop new markets for educational games, including schools, parents, and after-school programs; and recognize finalists at the White House or other venues. What incentives would you recommend we deploy to maximize high quality participation?

  • Final Product: We acknowledged a spectrum of potential final products– including “back of the envelope” ideas, game story boards, working prototypes, and market-ready “final” products. In addition, we discussed the possibility of multiple phases to capture the breadth and quality of potential submissions (perhaps an early round seeking top ideas/story boards to be developed into games in round two). How should we design the competition in a manner that inspires and empowers both professionals willing to volunteer hours to the competition and students willing to build a game that doubles as a semester class assignment? How do we address the myriad game product categories – from casual games to fully developed titles?

  • Your Commitment: A great deal of the conversation focused on how individuals might complement the official competition with commitments they could offer from their respective positions – whether it would be incorporating nutrition data in already-developed games, faculty assigning class time towards building nutrition games, or organizations spreading the word about the contest. How might you be willing to help? Please post any commitments your firm, foundation, school or other organization might be willing to offer as we build a national movement to address childhood obesity.

Thank you in advance for your ideas on these important questions.

Aneesh Chopra is Chief Technology Officer of the United States

New Federal Conservation Council Boosts America’s Outdoors

Hunters, fishers and all wildlife enthusiasts – there’s a new USDA and Department of Interior council that is going to make the great outdoors even greater for you.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar have announced the new Wildlife and Hunting Heritage Conservation Council that will advise government on wildlife conservation and hunting issues. The Secretaries were joined by Governor Brian Schweitzer of Montana for the announcement at the Theodore Roosevelt Island national memorial in Washington, D.C.

Sparked by the spirit Theodore Roosevelt, the new council focuses on the importance of hunting and fishing in American life and their connections to healthy lands and native species.

The new council replaces the Sporting Conservation Council, bringing in members from the hunting and shooting sports industries and representatives of the nation’s major hunting organizations.

The council will provide a forum for sports men and women to advise the Federal government on wildlife and habitat conservation. New opportunities partnerships will abound as the council brings together the public, the sporting conservation community, the shooting and hunting sports industry, wildlife conservation organizations, the States, Native American tribes, and the Federal government.

USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service, Farm Service Agency and Forest Service and the Department of Interior’s U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and Bureau of Land Management will provide support and guidance to the council.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack (left), Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer (center) and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack (left), Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer (center) and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, share a light moment before the announcement of the creation of the Wildlife and Hunting Heritage Conservation Council a new cooperative Federal advisory council on wildlife conservation and hunting Issues. The Advisory Council will provide advice to the government on wildlife conservation and hunting issues and promote efforts to preserve America’s hunting heritage for future generations. The event took place in Washington, D.C. on February 4, 2010.

From left: Tom Strickland, Chief of Staff and Assistant Secretary for Fish, Wildlife and Parks, Department of Interior, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer sign the proclamation creating the Wildlife and Hunting Heritage Conservation Council a new Federal advisory council on wildlife conservation and hunting Issues on Theodore Roosevelt Island National Monument in the Potomac River in Washington, D.C., on February 4, 2010.
From left: Tom Strickland, Chief of Staff and Assistant Secretary for Fish, Wildlife and Parks, Department of Interior, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer sign the proclamation creating the Wildlife and Hunting Heritage Conservation Council a new Federal advisory council on wildlife conservation and hunting Issues on Theodore Roosevelt Island National Monument in the Potomac River in Washington, D.C., on February 4, 2010.

Submitted by Brad Fisher, Public Affairs Specialist, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Washington,

Langston, Oklahoma’s Clinic gets a Dental Program, More Services with Recovery Act Funding

Langston, Oklahoma is a lot like many rural towns across the country; it has an aging population and a growing need for health care facilities.  Now, thanks to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), Langston will be able to renovate and expand its local health clinic. Read more »

Texans Talk Broadband in the Lone Star State

Approximately 200 Texans from across the Lone Star State traveled to San Antonio earlier this week to discuss opportunities to extend broadband to unserved and underserved communities in the fourth of 10 public broadband workshops held nationally.  The demand for broadband is sweeping the nation and changing the way we live, work  and stay connected to loved ones.

Rural communities without access to broadband are falling into a technological gap that will affect generations if not rectified quickly.  Recent studies show that while 80 percent of Texas is classified as rural, only 38 percent of this demographic has access to the internet.  That equates to 62 percent of our state’s rural population not having access to the worldwide marketplace, educational information, and telemedicine.

“The opportunity has never been greater for rural communities to benefit from recovery act funds that will improve broadband services and enhance rural business entrepreneurship, educational distance learning and telemedicine capabilities, while diversifying farmers and ranchers marketing capabilities,” commented Paco Valentin, USDA Rural Development Texas State Director.

Keynote speaker, USDA Rural Development Deputy Under Secretary Victor Vasquez, outlined the President’s goal to stimulate the economy and the importance of broadband to communities in rural areas – to businesses, citizens and anchor institutions.  He said everyone has a need for broadband connection which will enable them to meet the challenges of competing in a global economy and to be in the mainstream of trade and the cultural evolution.  He stressed the importance of listening to the changes and the details of the Notice of Funding Availability (NOFA) in order to compete favorably and that building networks were as important to building the infrastructure as they are to building good business coalitions.

Workshop attendees were given information on how to apply for the second round of broadband grants and loans under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which is making $4.8 billion available to support the deployment of broadband infrastructure.   The desire is strong among community leaders to ensure rural Texans step onto the information bandwagon sooner rather than later.  Applications will be accepted until March 15, 2010 and all awards will be announced by September 30, 2010.

For information on more workshops and archived webcasts, visit  Additional forums will be held over the next two weeks at the following locations: February 4, Sioux Falls, SD; February 5, Detroit, MI; February 9, Blacksburg, VA; February 11, Fayetteville, NC; and February 12, Atlanta, GA.

Texas Broadband
USDA Deputy Undersecretary for Rural Development, Victor Vasquez, addresses the Broadband Workshop in San Antonio, Texas.

Texas Broadband
USDA Rural Development Texas State Director, Paco Valentin, welcomes participants to the Broadband Workshop in San
Antonio, Texas.

Written by Gayle Cargo, Public Information Coordinator, Rural Development-Texas