Veterans returning home from overseas tours-of-duty face many challenges as they readjust to civilian life, and one of the most daunting ones is finding employment. Last year, a new program — the Soldiers to Civilians (S2C) Project — was started in rural west Tennessee to give local veterans the training and skills they need to enter into the field of precision agriculture. Thanks to grant assistance from the Department of Agriculture (USDA), project leaders will now be able to expand the S2C program beyond west Tennessee to help even more veterans living in the rural delta areas of east Arkansas and west Mississippi.
The expansion was funded, in part, through USDA’s Rural Business Enterprise Grant (RBEG) program, which promotes development of small and emerging businesses in rural areas. Rural Business-Cooperative Service Administrator Lillian Salerno announced the award during a visit to the Memphis Bioworks Foundation, a bioscience-oriented nonprofit organization that is a partner on the S2C project. Memphis Bioworks is one of more than 130 projects in 30 states and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico that are receiving RBEG funds.
The S2C project to train veterans for precision agriculture jobs was the idea of Tennessee’s Crockett Policy Institute. Memphis Bioworks has teamed with the Institute on the S2C project and it is receiving a USDA grant that will enable S2C to expand into 110 counties.
Precision agriculture uses sophisticated equipment like GPS, satellite imagery and other computer technology to help farmers manage their crops. Veterans are excellent candidates for this type of work because their military training exposes them to similar technology systems. “Today, veterans are computer-savvy and used to operating very advanced systems,” noted Bill Stubblefield, director of Memphis Bioworks’ AgBioworks Regional Initiative, at the event.
According to Salerno, the RBEG program finances a broad range of business projects. Since the beginning of the Obama Administration, 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.
Learn more about the Rural Business Enterprise Grant program, and other USDA programs that support rural business development, at www.rurdev.usda.gov.