March 27 - Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture will launch its "StrikeForce" initiative in 10 additional states. The primary goal of the StrikeForce initiative is to increase partnership with rural communities and leverage community resources in targeted, persistent poverty areas. Vilsack noted that through the StrikeForce initiative, USDA will do more to partner with local and state governments and community organizations on projects that promote economic development and job creation.
"During my travels across the country, I've heard mayors and other community leaders say they have a hard time competing for USDA loan and grant programs. They have a plan to develop a new business or create jobs in their regions, but they lack development capital and they view our application and review processes as a barrier," said Vilsack. "StrikeForce changes that. By increasing outreach and technical assistance to communities, we can serve as better partners and help better leverage resources."
The "StrikeForce" initiative started as a pilot project in 2010 in selected regions in three states: Arkansas, Georgia and Mississippi. In 2011 it was expanded to include Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada. In 2013, Secretary Vilsack announced new efforts to bring the StrikeForce for Rural Growth and Opportunity to Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, North Carolina, North Dakota, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah and Virginia.
USDA identifies census tracts with over 20 percent poverty (according to American Community Survey data) to identify sub-county pockets of poverty. As areas of persistent poverty are identified, USDA staff work with state, local and community officials to increase awareness of USDA programs, and help build program participation. Vilsack noted that often USDA conducts special outreach activities in an area, and that since 2010, USDA has partnered with over 400 local community-based organizations to promote local or regional development projects.
Secretary Vilsack also discussed how the StrikeForce initiative has already had an impact across the nation.
Vilsack also noted that Farm Service Agency direct lending in StrikeForce areas saw an increase last year, even as lending by the agency nationwide was down slightly.
"The StrikeForce Initiative is helping us direct additional resources to better serve producers in persistent poverty rural communities," said Vilsack. "We are focusing on these identified high poverty areas to help improve the quality of life of producers and their communities and to accelerate implementation of conservation practices on their land."
Participants in the StrikeForce include The Natural Resources Conservation Service, Rural Development, the Farm Service Agency, the Food and Nutrition Service and the USDA Office of Advocacy and Outreach.