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8/7/12 - More than $1 million awarded to MSU in rural job creation grant

Mississippi State University will administer more than $1 million in federal grant monies as part of a national effort to bolster job creation in rural areas.

The White House announced this week that Mississippi State will receive the maximum award of $1,065,000 as part of the multi-agency Rural Jobs and Innovation Accelerator Challenge.

Economic development partnerships and initiatives in 12 states are receiving awards from the U.S. Department of Commerce's Economic Development Administration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Delta Regional Authority, and the Appalachian Regional Commission.

"The focus is to create jobs in rural areas of the country, so there is a strong focus on support for entrepreneurs and growing existing small businesses," said Clayton Walden, director of MSU's Center for Advanced Vehicular Systems Extension Office based in Canton and the university's principal leader for the grant. He noted that the project especially will focus on increasing entrepreneurship with minority and underrepresented groups.

Walden explained that MSU's project will focus on 61 counties that define the combined Delta and Appalachian regions of the Magnolia State. Along with the CAVS Extension Office, the university-based Southern Rural Development Center, the National Strategic Planning and Analysis Research Center, the Franklin Furniture Institute, the Office of Entrepreneurship and Technology Transfer, as well as the Department of Agricultural Economics will support the initiative. Mississippi Development Authority is an additional partner.

"This involves building communities, which is a very strong suit of the SRDC and nSPARC, and of course increasing entrepreneurial activities is a strength of several of our university entities," Walden added.

The program targets the creation and retention of more than 500 jobs, with an accompanying economic development impact of more than $30 million including private investment, and cost savings.

"We have taken purposeful steps to make innovation, entrepreneurship and community engagement priorities on our campus. We have been building that culture with students, faculty and staff for a number of years," said David Shaw, Mississippi State's vice president for research and economic development. "We have an innovation ecosystem in place that is growing capacity and the economy by creating jobs, enhancing quality of life and providing new opportunities in communities around our state."

To accomplish the goals, the program will focus on four thrusts:

--Strengthening Communities: Activities will focus on strengthening communities' strategic planning processes, enhancing leadership skills, and promoting a robust entrepreneurial environment. The program also will leverage an initiative to increase broadband penetration in rural areas.

--Expanding Clusters: Strategies to target the growth of major clusters, such as automotive, furniture and agri-business industries, will propagate opportunities for smaller companies within their respective regional clusters. Workshops and networking events conducted in accordance with community development activities will enable existing businesses and start-up companies to have a forum to explore business opportunities. Successful owners of minority and underrepresented, underserved businesses will coach participants regarding critical success factors.

--Growing Companies: Technical assistance and professional development programs will be developed and conducted to fully exploit growth opportunities among the region's critical cluster companies. Priority will be given to companies where growth and expansion have a high likelihood of expanding the local supply chain, to leverage broader business opportunities with the inclusion of small businesses and start-up companies. Assistance with planning for and acquiring new technologies and innovations also will be a priority for this thrust.

--Developing Entrepreneurs: Working directly with prospective entrepreneurs, as identified in the community development thrust, the program will accelerate the formation of new and innovative businesses, utilizing the internationally acclaimed Kaufmann Institute FastTrac program. A review team comprised of successful business people and key stakeholders from each sub-region will be a resource for entrepreneurs who have completed training. Additional university resources will be among benefits, including marketing studies, funding to work with the university's "start-up black belts," and opportunities to make significant pitches to seed fund boards and Angel Investors.

"We believe that this work is the perfect example of how major research universities can positively impact rural economic development in their states," said Melvin Ray, associate vice president for economic development at Mississippi State. "We are working every day to enhance opportunities in the local community, our state and region-wide."

Allison Matthews | University Relations

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