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GrowSmart Maine named to fill State Rural Development Council gap

2019-12-10

As seen in Maine Biz: https://www.mainebiz.biz/article/growsmart-maine-named-to-fill-state-rur...

Maine's ability to strengthen rural development programs, small and large, may be enhanced by the recent designation of GrowSmart Maine as the state's Rural Development Council by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

State Rural Development Councils collaborate both with in-state public and private-sector groups and with other states to strengthen rural development. Maine hasn't had a formal rural development council since Maine Rural Partners shut down in 2016.

“This new designation makes GrowSmart the go-to organization in Maine for rural development,” GrowSmart Maine Executive Director Nancy Smith said in a news release Monday. “It fits perfectly within our mission of helping communities to manage change without losing the value of the Maine brand.”

Smith noted that although the designation comes without funding, “there is significant value in expanded partnerships with our Congressional delegation and with peer organizations in ten other states.”

Paul Costello, executive director of Vermont’s Council on Rural Development, said the news is exciting. Costello was keynote speaker at the Rural Maine's Next Economy conference in Bangor in 2017, where he stressed the need for statewide collaboration and the importance to the state of having a council.

"State Rural Development Councils have the power to bring people together to set positive direction in their communities and in public policy," he said in the news release. The councils "look beyond politics" and work with other agencies "for the common good of our communities."

"We look forward to working with our Maine partners to share best practices and mutual support for their efforts to advance democracy and prosperity in rural Maine," he said.

The designation will help GrowSmart "continue to support the businesses that power the region," U.S. Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Angus King, I-Maine, said in a joint statement. “For the past 16 years, GrowSmart Maine has created new opportunities for rural Maine communities, strengthened land conservation, revitalized downtown infrastructure, and bolstered job creation."

There are 37 SRDCs in the U.S., but an effort is underway to establish councils in all 50 states, according to Partners for Rural America, the association of the councils. The councils were established by the federal government in 1990 as part of an omnibus farm bill. They were most recently reauthorized in 2018.

The councils address issues that that vary from state to state, but most SRDCs work to improve community and economic development, education, workforce training, infrastructure development and access to broadband, transportation and quality health care, according to the Partners for Rural America website. "These organizations work on the ground in the communities as well as with local, state and federal government leaders to promote the assets and opportunities in rural America," the website says.