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USDA Provides Support to Native American Businesses and Rural Communities

Christine Feroli
Fort Totten
Release Date
Oct 05, 2015

Agriculture Under Secretary Lisa Mensah today announced 28 grants for $4.3 million to support business and economic development in Tribal communities in 14 states.  Funding comes from the Rural Business Development Grant (RBDG) program, which promotes the development of small and emerging businesses in rural areas.

“USDA is committed to increasing economic opportunities in Native American communities by investing in projects that will create well-paying jobs and improve the quality of life for Tribal families,” Mensah said during a visit here today. “These strategic investments are supporting a wide range of business needs that will help Native American enterprises – from technical assistance and training to revolving loan funds.”

One of the recipients announced today, the Spirit Lake Tribe in North Dakota, is receiving a $973,000 grant to renovate the mini-mall building on the reservation and convert it to rental space for entrepreneurs. Members of the Spirit Lake Tribe live in a high-poverty area of the North Central part of the state. USDA has designated the area for targeted assistance through the StrikeForce for Rural Growth and Opportunity Initiative. Since USDA established StrikeForce in 2010, more than $16 billion in investments have been directed to the country’s most economically challenged areas to create jobs, build homes, feed kids, assist farmers and conserve natural resources.

Another RBDG recipient announced today, the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, is receiving a $100,000 grant to provide technical assistance, training and other specialized services to Native American-owned small businesses in the Promise Zone. The project will help five businesses, create 20 jobs and support 10 existing jobs.

The Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma is one of five locations – and the only Tribal entity – President Obama designated as Promise Zones in 2014.  Promise Zones are high-poverty communities where the federal government partners with local leaders to increase economic activity, improve educational opportunities, leverage private investment, reduce crime, enhance public health and address other community-identified priorities.

Congress created the RBDG program under the 2014 Farm Bill.  The program combines the former Rural Business Enterprise Grant and Rural Business Opportunity Grant programs. RBDG sets aside a portion of funds for business development and job creation efforts on behalf of federally recognized Indian Tribes. Financing for the grants announced today comes from those targeted funds.

USDA’s Rural Business Development Grant Program is one of several that support rural economic development. Since the start of the Obama administration, USDA’s Rural Business-Cooperative Service has helped 85,000 rural businesses through various loan and grant activities.

For example, when the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe in Mt. Pleasant, Mich., decided to upgrade their market to a larger, permanent structure, USDA Rural Development gave the Tribe a $200,000 business grant to help build a farmers market with a permanent pavilion and an adjacent parking lot. Farmers markets are an excellent way to support local growers and promote economic activity in rural communities.

The expanded Mt. Pleasant Native Farmers Market sells local foods and a variety of hand-made items such as traditional bowls and cups, beads, soaps and more. Community leaders have high hopes that the market will revive interest in growing traditional Native American crops and improve Tribal members’ diets, moving them away from processed foods to healthier, locally grown produce.

Funding of each award announced today is contingent upon the recipient meeting the terms of the grant agreement.

President Obama’s plan for rural America has brought about historic investment and resulted in stronger rural communities. Under the President's leadership, these investments in housing, community facilities, businesses, and infrastructure have empowered rural America to continue leading the way – strengthening America's economy, small towns and rural communities.