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Posts tagged: Jobs forum

USDA Business Administrator Judith Canales Promotes Job Creation in New York State Through the Recovery Act

Bankers and economic development officials from across New York attended USDA Rural Development’s Lender Roundtable in Syracuse on April 8.  Sponsored by New York’s Rural Business Program, the event featured USDA Business and Cooperative Programs (B&I) Administrator Judith Canales. The Administrator emphasized the B&I Program’s desire to attract new lenders, while strengthening its existing lending relationships and creating jobs. Read more »

On The Road Again… In Texas

Thank you Willie Nelson for giving us a great theme song during our journey around the great state of Texas recently as we continued the conversation about jobs and economic growth in rural America that began in December with President Obama at the White House.  The Farm Service Agency Executive Director, Juan Garcia, and I decided that the best way to hold these forums were to do it face-to-face with our rural communities.  Nine days of driving over 3000 miles, we met with over 100 Texans at seven forums held in strategically located areas. Read more »

USDA Sponsored Forums In Alaska Draw Substantial Public Interest

We wrapped up the final of four USDA-led jobs forums Monday in Anchorage.  As in Fairbanks, Kotzebue and Juneau, area leaders joined with Alaskans from all walks to life to provide input on what works and what doesn’t work when it comes to job creation and retention, especially in rural Alaska.

As a former lawmaker, and a current member of an electric cooperative board, I was impressed to hear how so many state residents feel that reliable, affordable electricity is one of the most important keys to establishing the economic stability necessary to promote job growth.  It’s no wonder when some communities have to pay as much s $10 per gallon for fuel oil to heat their homes and generate electricity. Additionally, rural Alaskans want what many in urban areas take for granted: broadband  Internet access, and the ability to fully participate in commercial and educational activities on the world wide web.  Alaskans produce a wide range of products, from art to food items, that buyers in the “lower 48” and around the world want, but in order to get them to market, the seller needs access to broadband.  USDA is working on that, having just announced a package of loans and grant to extend broadband to communities in the Bethel and Dillingham region.  Natural resource development is the life blood of Alaska’s economy and each of the forums stressed the importance skill training for the jobs of the future.   Alaskans want Alaskans to get the jobs that may come from a gas pipeline or other large development project.

In Juneau, surrounded by the nation’s largest national forest, we talked about the need for a new forest economy, one that moves beyond the old growth harvesting of the past, and into a new era of renewable energy production. My staff is working with officials in Washington, D.C., both in Rural Development and in the Forest Service, to make this new economy a reality.   Rich and pristine ocean waters which currently provide fishing industry jobs can also host of an emerging mariculture industry, particularly oyster farming.   Mining gave birth to Juneau’s economy and there is still strong support for a responsible mining industry.

In Fairbanks, I was joined by Senator Mark Begich in announcing $49 million in water and sewer projects for rural Alaska.  These projects will improve health conditions in many rural communities, stretching all the way from Saxman and Kodiak Island to the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta and from Kotzebue to Fort Yukon.  Those projects will create local construction jobs and improve the infrastructure in many rural communities.   Local food systems were also a big topic of discussion in Fairbanks.  Contrary to popular stereotypes it is possible produce healthy foods grown in soil over permafrost.

In Kotzebue, it was minus 32 degrees outside, but we had a warm reception inside the local Tech Center.  This forum, the only one in the United States held above the Arctic Circle, was broadcast region-wide by KOTZ radio and was moderated by National Native News pioneer Nellie Moore.   Kotzebue is a coastal community and on the leading edge of the effects of climate change.  While melting arctic sea ice is a major concern, the community see opportunities as global shipping lanes open before their eyes.

The Obama Administration is serious about creating an environment that supports job creation and the four forums we held across this state lay a groundwork for regional coordination, with the Forest Service, the Farm Service Agency, the Denali Commission, the State of Alaska, Native corporations and local governments, along with many others.  Over the next year, working with our partners, we intend to support micro-lending activities in rural areas, fund needed community facilities and encourage the expansion of renewable energy development through our Rural Energy for America program.  There’s a lot to accomplish, and we’re just getting started.

FSA Executive Director Danny Consenstein and I will hand deliver our report on these four meetings to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in Washington, D.C. later this month.  We know that they will set the framework for job development later this year, and for years to come.

Job Forum Alaska
Alaska Rural Development State Director Jim Nordlund addresses the Jobs Forum in Anchorage on February 1. Head table, Seated, (L to R) Brynn Keith, Alaska Department of Labor; Greg Cashen, Alaska Workforce Investment Board; Mark Allred, Denali Commission; Danny Consenstein, FSA State Executive Director; Vince Beltrami, President, Alaska AFL-CIO; Chris Rose, Renewable Energy for Alaska Program (REAP); Arthur Keyes, Glacier Valley Farms; Wes Lannen, USDA Rural Development Telecommunications General Field Representative

Job forum Alaska
Pictured at the Alaska USDA Jobs Forum in Kotzebue, Alaska are (L to R): Dean Westlake, Northwest Arctic Borough Assembly Member; Danny Consenstein, Executive Director, Alaska Farm Service Agency;
Jim Nordlund, State Director, USDA Rural Development; and radio host Nellie Moore

Job forum Alaska
A large crowd came out in temperatures of -35 to discuss job creation ideas during a USDA-sponsored Jobs Forum in Kotzebue, Alaska, located above the Arctic Circle.

Jim Nordlund, State Director, USDA Rural Development-Alaska

Central Oregon Residents Poised and Ready for Green Jobs and Renewable Energy at USDA Jobs Forum in Bend

Bend, Oregon – Panels of economic experts, elected officials, community leaders and state agencies once again presented information in conjunction with Farm Service Agency (FSA) and Rural Development (RD) for a jointly hosted USDA Forum on Jobs & Economic Growth on January 28. The forum was held at Central Oregon Community College in Bend, a Central Oregon community with a 15% unemployment rate.  A similar forum was held the previous week in Albany.  Both forums were facilitated by Rural Development Initiatives, Inc.

Roger Lee, Executive Director of Economic Development for Central Oregon, kicked off the first panel with a discussion about which business sectors are thriving and which ones are not in this community that saw a 3.5% unemployment rate jump to 15% in just three years.   Bend was hit hard by the housing bust where roughly half of the job losses were in manufacturing and construction.

Deschutes County Commissioner Alan Unger agreed that while “industry knows how to build a widget, they don’t know how to go through the land-use process.”  He encouraged greater collaboration among citizens, businesses and interest groups as a method of building support for their ideas and projects.  And he praised the work of The Oregon Consortium and Oregon Workforce Alliance (TOC/OWA), a public-private partnership that provides guidance and strategies for workforce training in 24 rural Oregon counties.

Oregon State University economist Bruce Sorte believed that counties who let their public officials take risks will succeed, and that federal agencies needed to be the backstop in the event those risks are not successful.  He noted that we’re not in any particular economic cycle, but rather we are seeing a “fundamental restructuring of the whole economy.

The second half of the forum focused on green jobs/renewable energy, farming and agricultural exports. Bob Repine, Assistant Director for Energy Incentives at the Oregon Department of Energy saw many opportunities for Central Oregon in the growing green energy market.  He spoke about a business that is turning water bottles into reusable products instead of shipping them off to India to be burned for energy.  Mr. Repine mentioned that horizontal wind turbines are being developed for use in less windy areas, and that Oregon is looking at upgrading the grid system to transmit the electricity created from these new technologies.  He cautioned, however, that we will need a quicker response from Oregon’s education system to keep up with worker training.

Phil Chang, program administrator for the Central Oregon Intergovernmental Council was excited about the “new forest economy,” and our ability to take liabilities and turn them into assets.  Mill residuals, hog fuel and smaller diameter trees can be used in biomass plants, the up-and-coming wood pellet industry, and other wood products.  He praised the many programs offered by Rural Development, but would like to see changes made so the programs could be used on federal lands.  Over 50% of Oregon’s land is owned by the federal government.

Forum participants extolled the many virtues of Rural Development programs, noting the staff was always there to answer the phone and provide guidance on projects and ideas.  While residents were encouraged by the growth of the renewable energy industry, there were expressions of anxiety over the uncertainty of the financial markets, the lack of access to capital, and the continued decline of the housing industry.  Some were concerned that green jobs were more trendy than sustainable, and that while government programs help at first, they might not over the long haul.  Changes in land-use laws would help farmers who are focused on agri-tourism and developing internship possibilities to slow the out-migration of our young people.  As one participant noted, “Our children are our biggest export.”

The smaller community of Sisters, Oregon, and the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs both expressed concerns about short timelines, the numerous regulations and their inability to be shovel-ready with projects under ARRA.  However, Sisters was grateful for the sewer project funded with USDA Community Facilities program dollars.  The city of Madras echoed similar concerns and also noted that over 20% of their workforce is uninsured, leading to rising costs for charitable care.

The congressional offices of U.S. Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley were ably represented at the forum, both eager to share the many ideas and suggestions with Oregon’s Senators.  There was general agreement among the 75+ participants that these kinds of forums needed to happen more often, and that rural Oregon needs greater partnerships between federal, state and nonprofit agencies to pool and leverage their limited resources.

If you would like to continue the conversation by making written comments, you may do so on this blog, or by posting to and inserting “Oregon Jobs and Economic Growth Forum” in the subject line.

Written by: Vicki L. Walker, State Director, USDA Rural Development-Oregon

Oregon State Director Vicki Walker addresses the audience at the Bend, Oregon jobs forum.

Oregon State Director Vicki Walker addresses the audience at the Bend, Oregon jobs forum.

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

Hundreds Share Ideas on Jobs and Economic Development With USDA in California

It is difficult for most people to comprehend the distances and diversity we face here in California.  For example: the distance from Smith River, in the Northwest corner of California, to Winterhaven, in the Southeast corner, is the same distance as it is from Chicago to Washington, D.C.

When USDA Rural Development was tasked by Agriculture Secretary Vilsack to continue the conversation that began at President Obama’s December Forum on Jobs and Economic Development we had California’s challenges on our mind.  And we soon realized that we needed to engage all sectors of our economy and our rural communities in this conversation.

But Rural Development couldn’t do it alone, nor did we try.  We reached out to our sister agencies at USDA, the Farm Service Agency and Natural Resources Conservation Service as well as the University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE) and the California Association for Local Economic Development (CALED).  Then we then enlisted help and support from our diverse partners throughout the state to lead individual county-wide forums.  Despite a short timeframe – made even more difficult by record snowfall and rain throughout the state coupled with flooding and landslides, USDA was able to host 43 forums across California!  Locations ranged from the Elk Valley Rancheria Community Center in Crescent City to the San Diego Gas and Electric Renewable Energy Resource Office in El Centro.  We went to the Mount Whitney Hostel in Lone Pine, to the Veteran’s Hall in Hollister, and made stops everywhere in between.

Groups that provided leadership for their county forums included Tribal Governments, Resource Conservation and Development Councils, local Economic Development Corporations, California State Universities, the Valley Health Network, the Sierra Nevada Conservancy, Farm Bureaus, Self-Help Housing Groups, Agricultural Commissioners, Resource Conservation Districts, County Supervisors, Community Colleges and many others.

Through these amazing partnerships we were able to connect with almost 900 Californians from all reaches of our State.  We heard from farmers, business owners, non-profit groups, housing organizations, economic development professionals, school officials, health care organizations, tourism councils, tribal nations, and ordinary citizens concerned about their communities.

At the conclusion of our county forums, input was analyzed during a statewide videoconference moderated by Rural Development State Director Dr. Glenda Humiston.  This live roundtable networked 20 USDA offices throughout the state and gave local forum leaders an opportunity to share and discuss their individual findings with the USDA state leadership and several state partners.

Information from local forums, feedback from state leaders and content of recent reports related to these issues all show an amazing amount of consistency in their messages and, despite the diversity of the state’s many regions, several common themes emerged:

  • Expand and Upgrade Infrastructure
  • Improve Access to Capital and Financing
  • Streamline Regulations and Permit Processes
  • Develop a Better Definition of Rural That Fits California’s Needs and Realities
  • Find Ways to Expand and Improve Service to Applicants
  • Provide More Technical Assistance and Planning to Local Communities
  • Assist and Enhance Traditional Job Training Institutions
  • Improve Access and Utilization of Water, Land and Other Resources
  • Enhance Programs and Opportunities in Specific Sectors:

o    Enable Regional Food Systems and Improve Access to Healthy Food

o    Support Value-added Business Growth and Tourism

o    Expand Programs to Stimulate Green Jobs and Projects

o    Increase Opportunities to Produce and Utilize Alternative Energy Sources

o    Stabilize and Expand the Supply of Affordable Housing

  • Improve Access and Affordability of Health Care

The results will be provided to Secretary Vilsack in a report later this month.

State leaders from USDA connected to partners across California through a live videoconference roundtable discussion on Thursday, January 28. Shown on the screen – Greg O’Sullivan from the Shasta County Economic Development Council shared the findings from the forum held in Anderson, CA earlier in the week.

USDA Rural Development State Director Dr. Glenda Humiston (center) joined Mike Dozier from the Office of Community and Economic Development at CSU Fresno at the local forum held in Fresno County on January 25. Thirty members of the community had a lively discussion sharing ideas and suggestions for creating jobs and economic development in California’s central valley.

Submitted by Dr. Glenda Humiston, California State Director

USDA Rural Development

About 100 Turn Out for a Job Forum in Carson City, Nevada

Ideas ranging from opening a beef slaughterhouse to attracting more investment in renewable energy came from the Forum on Jobs and Economic Growth co-sponsored by USDA Rural Development and the Farm Service Agency at Western Nevada College in Carson City, Nevada.  Nearly 100 people braved snow and cold on Thursday, January 21, to listen and share their ideas. Read more »