U.S. Sens. Patrick Leahy, Bernie Sanders and U.S. Representative Peter Welch announced Tuesday that a special designation secured by Leahy in the last Farm Bill has brought $930,398 of United States Department of Agriculture Rural Development (USDA RD) grants aimed at job creation to organizations in the Northeast Kingdom.
The grants, known as Rural Business Enterprise Grants, will help eight nonprofit organizations across Orleans and Caledonia Counties partner with private businesses to do everything from helping small farms process and sell local fruits and vegetables to offering one-on-one business counseling to small businesses.
In a joint statement, Leahy, Sanders and Welch said: "These Rural Development funds will help facilitate job growth in a region of the state filled with promise and good ideas. In many rural parts of America, these ideas never have a chance of developing into small businesses, but the REAP Zone provides the capital needed to serve as a catalyst to help entrepreneurs -- from farmers to software engineers -- grow right here in the Northeast Kingdom."
Since 2001 Leahy has fought to designate the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont -- Caledonia, Essex, and Orleans Counties -- as a Rural Economic Area Partnership (REAP) Zone, a USDA RD designation recognizing the unique rural nature of a region that prioritizes the region's grant applications. In 2013, USDA RD made about $20 million available nationwide for Rural Business Enterprise Grants. The Northeast Kingdom REAP Zone received nearly 5 percent of the total grants available. The new Farm Bill passed June 11 by the Senate would renew the REAP program's charter under legislation led again by Leahy, who is the most senior member of the Senate Agriculture Committee.
The 2013 Rural Business Enterprise Grant REAP Zone recipients are listed below:
Center for an Agricultural Economy: $141,198 to help small farms process local produce
Catamount Film and Arts: $25,000 to implement an internet ticketing system
Jay Peak Area Chamber of Commerce: $63,500 for e-kiosks at five small businesses
Northern Community Investment Corp: $149,110 to assist emerging businesses
$237,435 to provide consulting to small businesses
Northeast Kingdom Community Action: $60,000 for equipment at the NEK Tasting Center
NEK Travel and Tourism Association: $113,940 to connect tourists to 130 small businesses
Newport City Renaissance: $83,000 to connect business with Newport activities
Vermont Farm-to-School: $57,185 to create online marketplace
David Robinson, Acting State Director for Vermont-New Hampshire said: "USDA is pleased to support the investment in business development, local food systems and tourism that these community grants represent. The investments are strategic and are expected to strengthen economic sectors across the Northeast Kingdom."