Funding will help Tech boost job creation, business
Louisiana Tech University has partnered with a nonprofit organization in Arkansas in an effort to boost business and create new jobs, and now they've got the funds to back it up.
The Obama Administration recently announced that the partnership's I-20 Corridor Regional Accelerator proposal was one of 13 projects in the nation to receive an award as a winner of the Rural Jobs and Innovation Accelerator Challenge — a national competition designed to spur job creation and economic growth in rural communities by identifying and leveraging local assets and strengthening linkages to industry.
The $964,134 award, which was the second largest given to any regional proposal, will support Louisiana Tech's new partnership with Winrock International Institute for Agricultural Development in Little Rock, Ark.
"This is significant recognition of what we're doing in terms of economic development," said Louisiana Tech President Dan Reneau. "This is truly an example of the university and the community coming together."
The funding was provided by 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 Rural Jobs Accelerator Challenge is a national initiative to support rural partnerships that, in turn, support small businesses.
"This is huge," said Kathy Wyatt, director of the Technology Business Development Center at Louisiana Tech. "This was an extremely competitive process and our region is extremely fortunate to receive these funds. This will be a phenomenally beneficial collaborative between Louisiana Tech and Winrock, and both entities bring really specific capabilities to the table."
Wyatt said as part of the partnership, Louisiana Tech will work with existing businesses and aspiring entrepreneurs in helping them identify and assess new business opportunities.
She said the university will also help with the development of a funding proposal and a business plan for each business or entrepreneur. "We will be helping them get focused and turn their idea into a viable product or service," she said. "For existing businesses, we can help with adding a new product or service, which will allow them to grow by developing new opportunities for themselves."
Wyatt said Winrock specializes in providing community capacity building activities and initiatives in small communities by working with municipalities, economic development organizations and other local leaders to identify an area's specific strengths and capabilities.
"They will put together a really good picture of a community's strengths and how they can reach their fullest economic potential," she said.
The primary goal of the project and the reason for the Rural Jobs and Innovation Accelerator Challenge is to promote small business growth in rural communities.
Wyatt said the partnership between Louisiana Tech and Winrock will allow small communities to play a larger role in the region's economic development.
"In this project, a significant amount of energy is focused on smaller communities in rural areas. The goal is try to connect them with opportunities already developing throughout the region and to allow them to identify their strengths and capabilities so their business will have an improved chance of participating in the economic growth throughout the region," she said. "It's important to stimulate people's thinking and get individuals to consider business ownership as a career opportunity."
While some smaller communities may not have the ability to house a large company's headquarters, Wyatt said they could make great locations for company vendors.
The idea, she said, is to help strengthen some of the economic clusters already developing throughout the region, including telecommunications, information technology and energy.
Wyatt said she expects the project will lead to an increased awareness and interest in entrepreneurial activities, an accelerated rate of business start ups, a stronger support system for local businesses and ultimately more jobs.
Louisiana Tech received strong support for the project from a number of community and business leaders throughout the region, including the mayors of Ruston, West Monroe, Arcadia, Bastrop, Farmerville, Delhi, Springhill and Bernice. Support also came from CenturyLink, ConAgra Foods, Murphy USA, Community Trust Bank, Louisiana Economic Development, North Louisiana Economic Partnership and Northeast Louisiana Economic Alliance.
U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, U.S. Sen. David Vitter, U.S. Congressman Rodney Alexander, Sen. John Boozman, Sen. Mark Pryor, and Congressman Mike Ross were also strong in their backing of Louisiana Tech's proposal.
Dave Norris, director of Louisiana Tech's Enterprise Center, said the project will create "a novel approach to rural business acceleration and engage communities that have thus far been left out of the burgeoning innovation enterprise in the I-20 Corridor."
The Rural Jobs and Innovation Accelerator Challenge competition was designed by the Taskforce for the Advancement of Regional Innovation Clusters and the White House Rural Council.