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Job Creation and Labor Training Discussed at Guam Jobs Forum

Labor, banking, local government and development officials joined representatives from USDA in Guam last month for a jobs forum, one of a number scheduled across America.  The Obama Administration, through USDA Rural Development and Farm Service Agency staff, is seeking comments from Americans in all walks of life, including small business owners and local leaders following a jobs summit at the White House in December.

Federal, state and local officials at the Guam Jobs Forum Those participating noted that Guam’s economy is separate from the United States, and closely tied to Japan’sas well as to other Asian markets.  Transportation costs are high.  For example, the island of Rota is just 18 miles from Guam, but those speaking said the cost of shipping between the islands is the same as the cost of shipping from California to Guam.

Officials were told that Guam needs a supply of skilled labor and more training opportunities. On the plus side, military activity and service businesses, like restaurants, are economic drivers. Topics that were discussed to boost the economy include promoting a “buy local” movement, developing agricultural products for local residents to buy and eat, improving inter-island infrastructure and becoming a regional educational and business hub.

The comments received at the meeting, and those posted on the USDA blog, will be provided to USDA and White House officials for review.  USDA officials in Hawaii conducted a jobs meeting yesterday (Wednesday) and another is set for tomorrow (Friday).

For a list of scheduled jobs meetings by state or to learn more, go to the Rural Development and FSA Job Roundtables Schedule, and the News Release, “USDA to Host Roundtables on Jobs, Economic Growth”.

USDA Hosts Jobs and Economic Growth Forum in New Jersey

USDA’s Rural Development and Farm Service Agency hosted a Jobs and Economic Growth Forum on January 5, 2010 at the Rutgers EcoComplex in Bordentown, NJ.   USDA was asked to lead the effort to listen to community leaders, non-profit organizations, business owners, economists, federal, state and local officials on how to stimulate job creation in New Jersey.  This Forum followed the lead of President Obama’s December 3, 2009 Roundtable discussion.

We were very pleased and fortunate to have Senator Bob Menendez and Congressman John Adler present to address the diverse audience of over 50 attendees.  Both Senator Menendez and Congressman Adler offered specific thoughts on plans for economic growth.  Providing keynote addresses were New Jersey Secretary of Agriculture Doug Fisher, nationally renowned Economists Dr. James Hughes and Dr. Joe Seneca from Rutgers University as well as Brian Schilling of the Food Policy Institute of Rutgers University.  The agricultural community and rural interests were also well represented at the Forum.  Everyone shared their thoughts on ways to improve the economy and how their organization may be able to partner with other organizations to further this initiative.

Senator Bob Menendez (far right); Donald Swartz, Director Economic Development South Jersey;  NJ Secretary of Agriculture Doug Fisher; Dean Robert Goodman, Rutgers University participate in the New Jersey Jobs and Economic Growth Forum Congressman John Adler (seated far right);  NJ Secretary of Agriculture Doug Fisher; Dr. Joe Seneca,  Economist from Rutgers University;  Brian Schilling, Food Policy Institute of Rutgers University and Howard Henderson (standing), State Director, USDA Rural Development, intently listen during Jobs and  Economic Growth Forum

Major obstacles to economic growth, such as lack of capital for small businesses, tax and regulatory requirements and lack of a skilled workforce, were discussed.  Innovative ideas to lead to job creation were presented.

We want to thank all those that attended for their participation and give a special thanks to Rutgers University for providing the facilities for this great event.

To learn more, go to the Rural Development and FSA Job Roundtables Schedule, and the News Release, “USDA to Host Roundtables on Jobs, Economic Growth”.

By Howard Henderson, NJ State Director, USDA Rural Development

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,