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Oregon Jobs and Economic Growth Forums Scheduled

Two community forums on jobs and economic growth are being held in Oregon as a follow up to President Obama’s December 3 White House briefings on job creation. Read more »

About 175 Brave Sub Zero Weather to Attend Jobs Forum in St. Louis

Many dug out of snow drifts and bundled up due to temperatures well below zero on Saturday to attend the Tri-State Jobs & Economic Development Forum in St. Louis hosted by USDA Rural Development (RD) and Farm Service Agency (FSA) of Illinois, Iowa and Missouri.  The forum was held in conjunction with the Missouri Governor’s Conference on Agriculture.

I welcomed the 175 attendees to St. Louis, set the stage for the forum and introduced the welcome video by USDA Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan.  A cross section of rural areas was in attendance including youth from FFA and 4-H.

Bill Menner from Iowa RD introduced the five panelists who made short presentations on jobs related issues: Dr. Jon Hagler, Director of Missouri Department of Agriculture; Elisabeth Buck, Director of Iowa Workforce Development; Randy Harris, Program Director Laborers’ International Local 338; Brian Bauer with Business Banking Market Manager for National City Bank; and Sharon Gulick, Director University of Missouri Extension’s Community Economic and Entrepreneurial Development (EXCEED) Program.

Some of the “key” things I heard to impact jobs and the economic conditions centered around: enhanced opportunities to promote the “spirit of entrepreneurship” through incentives, technical assistance and capital; more use of collaboration on a regional basis to attract businesses;  streamlining of government regulations and red tape for start up businesses plus improvements in tax code; more lenders willing to utilize government guarantees or other programs to help new or expanding businesses; more funding for jobs training  to help with “skilling up” the workforce; more funding for summer youth programs; expansion of high speed rural broadband access; more funding for ethanol and bio-diesel programs; continued high levels of funding for RD infrastructure programs to sustain rural communities and provide for a high quality of life in rural areas to help maintain and attract businesses and jobs for skilled workers.

The entire forum was captured on audio and video plus numerous staff took notes and pictures.  A report will be submitted to USDA Secretary Vilsack and President Obama.

We collected many recommendations and suggestions from a variety of partners and stakeholders during the forum. Many completed comment cards and we encouraged those in attendance and others that had contacted us to provide comments on the USDA Blog website or e-mailing to

We truly thank everyone that participated and do feel confident that the ideas being collected and submitted will provide a positive result in stimulating jobs and economic growth in the future.

Janie Dunning, Missouri State Director

Opening Remarks at Regional Jobs Forum in St. Louis by Janie Dunning, Missouri Rural Development (RD) State Director. Seated (L to r) Colleen Callahan, Illinois RD State Director; Randy Harris with Laborers International; Elisabeth Buck, Director Iowa Workforce Development; Bill Menner, Iowa RD State Director; Sharon Gulick, Director of University of Missouri EXCEED Program; and Brian Bauer with National City Bank

Opening Remarks at Regional Jobs Forum in St. Louis by Janie Dunning, Missouri Rural Development (RD) State Director. Seated (L to r) Colleen Callahan, Illinois RD State Director; Randy Harris with Laborers International; Elisabeth Buck, Director Iowa Workforce Development; Bill Menner, Iowa RD State Director; Sharon Gulick, Director of University of Missouri EXCEED Program; and Brian Bauer with National City Bank

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 Roundtable on Jobs, Economic Growth for Georgia and South Carolina

One hundred and fifteen people from Georgia and South Carolina attended a U.S. Department of Agriculture-sponsored Presidential Roundtable Forum on job creation at Augusta State University earlier this week.

About 25 community leaders brainstormed solutions to high unemployment numbers and the impact on rural areas, while extra chairs were added as people continued to arrive.

“This forum provides an opportunity to share ideas on creating jobs and economic opportunities,” said Shirley Sherrod, state director of USDA Rural Development in Georgia.  “Government can help lay the groundwork for economic growth, but the best ideas for continued growth and job creation often come from local communities. We need the best ideas to share with the Obama Administration.”

The roundtable included business owners, residents, state and local officials, union members, non-profit organizations, community leaders, economists, educators and others interested in job creation and economic stability. Fred Smith, District Director of the Georgia Department of Labor, provided the state’s perspective, including the most current statistics on unemployment and the most promising areas of job growth – healthcare and education.

Representatives from Senators Isakson and Chambliss, and Congressmen Barrow and Broun were present. Congressman Broun sent a statement to be read by his representative, Nicole Avecedo.

“The primary purpose is to put South Carolinians back to work,” said Vernita F. Dore, state director of USDA Rural Development in South Carolina. “We all know that unemployment in our state is one of the highest in the nation, and this forum brings the opportunity to change that. It gives us the chance to remind rural America about the many programs that Rural Development has to address this economy’s problem.”

“Moreover,” Dore continued, “it gives Rural Development the opportunity to remind rural communities that Rural Development stands poised with direct and guaranteed loan and grant programs to finance and help to create jobs and stimulate the economy. We believe that this forum will truly generate ideas for job creation and economic expansion in our state.”

“Our rural areas have been hit very hard in some counties,” Sherrod said. “Most communities need more economic diversity to sustain tough times like this, and that usually means small businesses need more support. Rural Development does have programs to help rural areas address this issue.”

Photo on Georgia/South Carolina Job forum

Willie Paulk, president of the Dublin-Laurens County (GA) Chamber of Commerce and Development Authority, listens as Jerome Tucker, Executive Director of the Southeast Agricultural Coalition, talks about the importance of regional leadership and a regional approach to solutions.

Georgia/South Carolina Job forum

Mayme Dennis, City Council Member in Sandersville, GA, stresses the importance of streamlining government paperwork as Grace Fricks, President of Appalachian Community Enterprises, Inc. listens. Fricks agreed, suggesting that the 25% matching fund for Rural Development's Intermediary Relending Program be decreased or eliminated during the economic downturn. Frick's ACE makes micro-loans to small rural businesses in North Georgia.

Georgia/South Carolina Job forum

Dr. Mark Miller, Dean of the James Hull College of Business at Augusta State University, talks about the importance of keeping education fully funded to prepare students for tomorrow. "There will be jobs in industries that have not yet been thought of using technologies that haven't been invented yet." He's seated next to Reginald Barner, President and CEO of The Barner Group in South Carolina.

Submitted by EJ Stapler and Marlous Black, USDA Rural Development

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

Vilsack Visits Southern Afghanistan, Sees Afghan Farmers Choosing Wheat and Apples Over Poppy

KABUL, Jan. 12, 2010 – Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack traveled to Helmand province in Southern Afghanistan yesterday, where U.S. government civilian experts are working closely with local government officials to provide Afghan farmers with enough guidance and incentives to create a shift away from opium poppy to crops such as wheat and melons. Vilsack is the first Cabinet Secretary in the Obama Administration to travel to Southern Afghanistan.

Tom Vilsack talks with apple farmers in southern Afghanistan

In July 2009, U.S. Marines wrested control of Nawa district in central Helmand from a strong Taliban presence that is heavily funded by the province’s opium production. However, in 2009, opium cultivation in Afghanistan decreased by 22 percent overall according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, from 157,000 hectares in 2008 to 123,000 hectares by autumn 2009. Helmand, which produces a majority of Afghanistan’s opium crop, saw cultivation decline by a third to less than 70,000 hectares. The reduction, said Vilsack, is due in part to a strong U.S. civilian-military presence that has allowed local governments in districts such as Nawa to deliver services to its people and give them hope for a brighter future. As a result, Afghans have gained greater confidence in their government.

While in Nawa, the Secretary also toured a bazaar where he talked to farmers selling goods in addition to meeting with district council members who recently endured the murder of three of their colleagues.

“In the area of agricultural productivity, we’ve heard from farmers who were able to increase significantly their grape production,” said Vilsack to reporters during his visit to Nawa. “We saw efforts at encouraging farmers to produce wheat by subsidizing the additional planting of wheat.  We have also had an opportunity to visit with a number of people who are working for [the U.S. Agency for International Development] and USDA in the area of natural resources. [We heard] about thousands, tens of thousands, and in some cases millions of trees being planted in this country.”

Vilsack met with Helmand’s governor Gulab Mangal, who has worked with U.S. civilian-military teams to induce farmers to abandon opium for subsidized wheat seed and fertilizer. Afghanistan harvested its biggest wheat crop in 50 years in 2009, seeing record gains in yield and riding a surge in seasonal rains and market prices that benefitted Afghan wheat farmers throughout the country. USDA agricultural experts and program staff from USAID have also been instrumental in helping Afghan farmers improve grape production and orchard crops such as apples and nuts.

Forum Held in West Virginia to Discuss Jobs and Economic Growth

In spite of the inclement weather, more than 100 people gathered in Beckley, West Virginia, last week for a community forum on jobs and economic growth, held as a follow up to President Obama’s December 3 White House briefings on job creation. Read more »

Secretary Vilsack in Afghanistan as Part of USDA’s Effort to Help Re-develop the Nation’s Agriculture Sector

This weekend, Secretary Vilsack traveled to Afghanistan as part of USDA’s efforts to help re-develop the nation’s agriculture sector – the top Obama administration priority for reconstruction.  “Agriculture is at a critical intersection in our efforts to try to stabilize Afghanistan,” said Vilsack. “If we are able to assist them in doing that, it also builds confidence in their government.”

The agricultural assistance strategy was developed by Afghans and Americans working together to restore Afghanistan’s once-vibrant agricultural economy. It is meant to help provide sustainable economic development in the long term by creating jobs, helping the nation achieve food self-sufficiency, reducing funding that the insurgency receives from poppy cultivation, and drawing insurgents off of the battlefield and back onto the farms and grazing lands that drive the nation’s economy. Tom vilsack and Hamid Karzai

At a meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Vilsack reiterated the Obama Administration’s commitment to assisting Afghanistan in the development of its agricultural sector.

As Afghans roll out the new strategy in many of the nation’s 34 provinces, Vilsack and other members of the Administration want to ensure that U.S. civilians are effectively partnering with Afghans over the long term to enhance the capacity of national and sub-national government institutions and to help rehabilitate Afghanistan’s key economic sectors, especially agriculture.

In December 2009, President Obama outlined his Administration’s strategy to disrupt, dismantle, and eventually defeat al Qaeda and to prevent their return to either Afghanistan or Pakistan. Along with an infusion of troops was a simultaneous increase in the number of civilian technical experts deployed to Afghanistan. Currently, about 1,000 U.S.  civilians and more than 50 USDA employees are fanned throughout the country, working with NATO forces and Afghan government officials as a crucial link between the needs of local populations and the ability of local governments to answer those needs.