Plan of Work
Changing Needs in Changing Times
FY 2008

Key Accomplishments

PRIORITY 1: Foster Civic-Minded Communities

1. A. Kettering Foundation’s Public Deliberation Initiatives

The SRDC worked closely with colleagues at the Kettering Foundation in supporting the Foundation’s work on civic economics and democratic practice in Extension. Both efforts are designed to explore the role that public deliberation can play in expanding citizen involvement in key community and economic development decisions. The SRDC is part of a national network of institutions that is examining the value of public deliberation as a strategy for promoting a civically healthy and active citizenry in communities across America. The SRDC was engaged in several meetings in 2007 with officials from the Kettering Foundation to help develop a proposal that will be being considered for joint funding by the Kellogg Foundation and the Kettering Foundation. The proposal will seek to advance and elevate the capacity of the Extension system to strengthen civic engagement through public deliberation.

1.B. Community-Based Planning Curriculum

The Center published “Preparing for the Future: A Guide to Community-Based Planning” in 2007. The curriculum was developed by Gene Theodori, associate professor of sociology at Sam Houston State University. The document provides a comprehensive view of community-based planning and does an effective job garnering active grassroots involvement in tackling issues of priority importance to the community. The curriculum includes a complete set of meeting agendas, presentation slides/notes, and worksheets that are designed to uncover a community’s strengths. The curriculum is available on the SRDC Web site at: http://srdc.msstate.edu/publications/theodori_final.pdf

PRIORITY 2: Build Economically Vibrant Communities

2.A. Meeting the E-Commerce Needs of Rural People and Communities

There are several activities that were pursued by the SRDC in 2007 that were designed to strengthen and expand the e-commerce activities of the region and nation’s Cooperative Extension Service system. The bulk of the resources to support these activities were funded as part of the Rural e-Commerce Extension Initiative: A National Demonstration Project. However, staff time in support of these efforts was funded, in part, from the Center’s CSREES base funding. As such, the SRDC spearheaded the following related to its e-commerce work:

  1. Worked with grantees selected to produce new E-Commerce educational curricula
    Five valuable e-commerce educational curricula were produced, tested in the field, peer reviewed and revised in 2007. The products vary in content and are designed to address the e-commerce educational and informational needs of a variety of Extension audiences.
  2. Managed New Round of Competitive Grants Program
    A new round of competitive grants was announced by the SRDC in January 2007. The call for pre-proposals generated 19 submissions by the March deadline. A national panel of land-grant faculty, with subject matter expertise in e-commerce-related topics, reviewed the pre-proposals and recommended that 11 applicants be invited to submit full proposals. Full proposals were submitted in June 2007, and five of those were approved for funding by the advisory panel.
  3. Organized National E-Commerce Training for Extension Educators
    The SRDC hosted a major national workshop at the Lied Conference Center in Nebraska on June 4-6, 2007, titled “E-Commerce Strategies for Small Businesses and Communities: A Rollout of New Extension Educational Curricula.” The conference, attended by 65 Extension educators from 28 states, introduced attendees to a series of new e-commerce educational products developed as part of our Rural E-Commerce Extension Initiative. These new products are available to support the Extension outreach educational activities of these educators. They are available on the SRDC site at: http://srdc.msstate.edu/ecommerce/07training/index.html.
  4. Partnered with the NCRCRD to Host Web-Based E-Commerce Training
    The SRDC partnered with the North Central Regional Center for Rural Development to offer a series of five online training sessions titled “E-Commerce: An Opportunity Whose Time Has Come.” The Web-based series, launched between February and June 2007, focused on a number of key topics, such as the role of the Internet in business and community development, strategies for addressing community-based technology opportunities, e-commerce applications related to online government and expanding business opportunities through e-commerce
  5. Produced the eNews Bi-monthly Newsletter
    In an effort to keep Extension educators and rural development customers aware of new e-commerce products, programs and trends, the SRDC published six issues of its eNews electronic newsletter in FY07. Over 600 individuals from across the country are now receiving eNews on a regular basis.

2. B. Enhancing Entrepreneurial Opportunities in the Rural South

In hopes of expanding the economic development strategies available to rural areas of the South, the SRDC played a vital role in understanding and developing programs that build on the economic assets of local places. Entrepreneurship and the complimentary activities that are crucial for seeding the growth of entrepreneurial activities in the rural South are among the portfolio of approaches the Center has been studying and addressing. Why the focus on entrepreneurship? The reason is simple – it is an ever-increasing component of the rural economy that demands the attention of our land-grant colleagues across the region. Following are the activities pursued in FY2007 to support work in the entrepreneurship arena:

  1. Provided Leadership/Coordination to the National eXtension Program on “Entrepreneurship and Their Communities” Initiative
  2. Over the past year, the national eXtension “Entrepreneurs and Their Communities” team completed the following key activities under the leadership of the SRDC:
    1. Frequently Asked Questions: More than 250 ready-made responses have been produced covering several topics of interest to current and potential entrepreneurs as well as communities.
    2. Information Briefs: For those wishing to delve more deeply into selected entrepreneurship topics, our team has produced close to 20 information briefs for use by Extension audiences.
    3. Research Highlights: Some of the best research articles on entrepreneurship have been highlighted and included on our Web site. It’s a great way to provide our customers with ready access to high quality research on a host of entrepreneurship-related topics.
    4. Calendar of Events: Our calendar helps keep our clientele and Extension educators aware of upcoming entrepreneurship training programs and conferences across the United States.
    5. Soft Launch of “Entrepreneurs and Their Communities” Web Site: The soft launch of the Web site took place in August 2007. The site is now accessible to Extension educators from across the country, and we are receiving valuable input regarding ways to expand and improve the Web site prior to its public release in early 2008.
  3. Published “Voices of the People: Strategies for Expanding Entrepreneurship in the Rural South”
    The valuable input and insights of close to 300 Southerners were captured in a special report that the SRDC released in April 2007. With funding provided by the Kellogg Foundation, the document showcases the core set of activities that are critical if the rural places in the South are to promote, nurture and sustain local entrepreneurship activities.
  4. Established the Southern Region Entrepreneurship Resource Team
    In an effort to build a strong team of Extension educators engaged in entrepreneurship efforts across the South, the SRDC formally organized the Southern Region Entrepreneurship Resource Team in 2007. The Center prepared a formal Web-based sign-up form which was distributed to land-grant faculty across the region. The response was overwhelmingly positive. To date, 74 individuals have asked to be part of the resource team. These regional team members are providing input to the national eXtension Entrepreneurship team on various components of the eXtension Entrepreneurship Web site, alerting the SRDC to important research and educational products/resources they have produced, and informing the Center on the research and educational outreach products they need to further enhance entrepreneurship activities in their states and counties.
  5. Spearheaded Revisions of the “Ca$hing in on Business Opportunities” Curriculum
    As one of the most successful products ever published by the SRDC, the “Ca$hing in on Business Opportunities” curriculum was in serious need of an update. Under the leadership of the Center, an excellent team of land-grant faculty from across the nation assembled to tackle the challenge of reviewing and revising the more than 20 modules of this comprehensive curriculum. The bulk of the revisions are complete and an updated version of the document will be released in 2008. Virtually all of the modules are relevant to the needs of entrepreneurs, small firms and home-based businesses.

2. C. The SRDC & Southern SARE: Strengthening the Partnership of Agriculture and Community

In an effort to build important bonds between the agricultural sector and the broader community in which it is embedded, the SRDC established a working partnership with the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (S-SARE) more than four years ago to launch the first Sustainable Community Innovation Grants Program in the Southern region. This important effort has allowed two land-grant university-based regional organizations to seed the growth of agriculture/community partnerships in a host of rural communities across the region. We showcase some of the key projects that we undertook jointly in FY07

  1. Awarded Competitive Grants in 2007
    Over the past year, Southern SARE and the SRDC jointly funded eight projects that were selected by an advisory panel of faculty drawn from the region.
    1. Value-Added Sustainable Agriculture Initiative (VA): The core focus of this project is to build and support the base of growers and adequately prepare them for the transition to organic.
    2. Training for Sustainable Community Development (AL): This project is focused on three objectives: (1) to provide sustainable economic and community development skills to selected African-American communities created during the New Deal Era; (2) to provide these communities with strategies so that they can best utilize the natural, social/cultural and economic resources inherent in their communities; and (3) to help these communities develop strategies to access local, regional and national resources to address issues critical to sustainable development.
    3. Establishing Community/Business Partnerships to Build a Market Identity for Local Seafood (NC): The objective of this project is to enhance public recognition of the Carteret Catch logo as a way of building a strong market identity for local seafood products. This proposal seeks funding to generate promotional materials for the program’s business partners and advertisements in local media to build greater consumer awareness of the Carteret Catch marketing initiative.
    4. Florida FarmLink (FL): The purpose of Florida FarmLink is to connect entrepreneurs in rural areas to resources so they can meet the current demand for local, sustainably-grown food in nearby population centers. A complementary purpose is to educate community leaders and citizens on the importance of sustainable agriculture practices.
    5. Building Sustainable Communities through Agricultural and Food-Based Entrepreneurship (VA): This effort is intended to spur entrepreneurial development in the value-added agricultural sectors of a four-county rural area in southern Virginia. The program is providing skills training and building an ongoing network of entrepreneurs and would-be entrepreneurs that will contribute to the building of sustainable agriculture and sustainable communities in the target region. Project activities include a series of 13 workshops, a food-tasting event, a mentorship program and the launching of a network of producers/entrepreneurs to explore ongoing sustainability initiatives.
    6. Sustainable Farming: Wedding Regional Agriculture and Community Development in Coastal Georgia (GA): The focus of this project is to foster community dialogue on needs assessment and conduct a search conference that reflects a multi-stakeholder perspective and strategic action plans around various facets of the local food system. One of the expected outputs is the expansion of local sustainable farming practices for McIntosh, Camden, Glynn, Long and Liberty Counties in Georgia. By its very nature, the project will promote a long-term strategy that will be more productive and profitable to local farmers while integrating natural resource protection, cultural preservation and civic engagement.
    7. Linking Native Agriculture Community with Tribal Institutional Economic Opportunities (OK): This project will bring together the heads of Native American business and institutional settings, including hospitals, nursing facilities, schools, businesses and casinos, for two meetings in 2007 to lay the groundwork for linking native agricultural producers, Native American business and institutional food purchasers. The meetings will bring together intertribal agricultural producers from each of the 38 tribes in Oklahoma with leaders of Native American businesses and institutions.
    8. Building Local Food and Local Communities in Western Oklahoma (OK): Ogallala Commons and its partners are teaming up with local county leaders to recruit and train community development teams from Woods, Major and Roger Mills counties in western Oklahoma. The intent is to identify and work with aspiring entrepreneurs having an interest in local and regional food production.
  2. Launched New Round of Competitive Grants Summer 2007
    A new round of competitive grants was announced by Southern SARE and SRDC in September 2007. As in past years, both organizations are interested in efforts that link sound farm and nonfarm economic development activities with agricultural and natural resource management. We were especially interested in attracting proposals from organizations with a focus on entrepreneurship development, and on value-added activities that build on the agricultural and nonagricultural assets of rural communities. These included efforts to establish entrepreneurial-friendly communities that can help support and sustain value-added entrepreneurship endeavors. Over 50 proposals were received by September 2007. Grant awards will be made in FY08.
  3. Co-Edited Special Issue of the Journal of the Community Development Society on Sustainable Development
    The SRDC Director (Beaulieu) and the Director of the Southern SARE (Jordan) are working on co-editing a special issue of the Journal of the Community Development Society titled: “Sustainable Development: Connecting Agriculture and Community.” The issue will be published in late Fall 2007 and will contain six articles written by social scientists from a variety of academic institutions and an introductory article co-written by the co-editors (Beaulieu and Jordan).

PRIORITY 3: Expand Opportunities for Distressed and Low-Wealth Communities

3.A. The SRDC RIDGE Program

The SRDC has made tremendous progress in developing a research base to help policy makers understand the unique and critical food assistance needs of low-income people, families and communities. With the support of the Economic Research Service, the Center has made significant strides over the past decade in strengthening and expanding the quality of social science-based research being spearheaded by the region’s higher education institutions. It has done so through its active partnership with the ERS Research Innovation and Development Grants in Economics (RIDGE) Program. By providing competitive seed funding to higher education institutions and others across the region, the SRDC has sought to expand our understanding of the myriad of food assistance and nutrition issues facing the South. These investments have paid important dividends including solid contributions to scientific literature, improved strategies for meeting the needs of the region’s diversifying population, and better insights on how federal and state food assistance policies and programs can be focused to enhance their effectiveness.

The following are a few highlights of last year’s key RIDGE-related activities:

  1. Prepared National Report on the RIDGE Program Titled “Strengthening Our Nation’s Food Assistance Programs”

    A June 2007 report, titled “Strengthening Our Nation’s Food Assistance Program,” captured the depth and breadth of the RIDGE program’s impact. This first of its kind report was prepared under the leadership of the Southern Rural Development Center and highlighted the important and practical contributions that researchers associated with the RIDGE Program have made since its inception in 1998.Important facts associated with the SRDC’s RIDGE Program activities in the region over the past decade include:

    1. Forty-nine projects received funding by the SRDC over this period of time, with funding levels for these competitively awarded grants ranging from $25,000 to $35,000. In total, more than $1.2 million has been invested in food assistance-related research by the SRDC.
    2. Though only a handful of researchers in the region were engaged in the SRDC RIDGE program at the time of its launching in 1998, the Center now boasts more than 110 social scientists and graduate research assistants that have played active roles in SRDC-sponsored food assistance related studies.
    3. Close to 30 institutions of higher education in the South have taken part in SRDC RIDGE-supported research, including nine historically black universities.
  2. Continued SRDC Food Assistance Policy Series Reports From the vantage point of the SRDC, investing in innovative research on food assistance and nutrition issues is vital. However, finding ways to communicate valuable research insights to our customers is equally important. As such, the Center has been committed to publishing policy briefs that showcase a handful of the RIDGE studies the Center has funded over the years. Thirteen such briefs have been published since 2000. The most recent brief details the exciting work conducted by a team of scholars from the University of Southern Mississippi and the University of Florida (Jerome R. Kolbo, Wendy Bounds, Jacquelyn Lee and Amal J. Khoury). This publication, published in July 2007, is titled “Overweight and Obesity in the South: Prevalence and Related Health Care Costs Among Population Groups.”
  3. Compiled Highlights of SRDC Funded RIDGE Projects, 2000-2007
    In light of the extensive list of RIDGE projects the SRDC has supported since the research program’s inception, the SRDC wanted to showcase the scientific richness of the studies undertaken since 2000. Simply put, we wanted to offer our social scientists and others an efficient way to determine the variety of food assistance and nutrition studies we have funded under major thematic areas. The Center was able to complete this important task in 2007, producing six documents that highlight the mix of RIDGE research studies carried out in the South. Six themes capture the valuable social science research carried out under the banner of the SRDC RIDGE program:
    1. Food Access Quality and Cost
    2. Food Assistance Challenges
    3. Food Assistance Participation
    4. Food Insecurity
    5. Impacts of Food Assistance Policies
    6. Nutrition and Obesity

3.B. Delta Rural Revitalization Project

The major goal of the Delta Rural Revitalization Project is to create and implement innovative strategies that will help advance the long-term economic and sustainable development of the Mississippi Delta region. The project involves the undertaking of applied research and outreach education activities in concert with local practitioners and economic development leaders in the region. Over the past year, the SRDC has worked closely with the Delta Council and Mississippi State University Extension on the following:

  1. Upgrading and Expansion of the Delta Data Information Toolkit
    This Web-based resource provides local Delta leaders and economic development agencies with timely data on a variety of labor market and socioeconomic-related conditions and trends in the region.
  2. Presence of Extension Economic Development Educators in the Delta
    The role of these educators, who are housed at the Delta Data Center, is to guide and inform the economic diversification efforts of the region, including the pursuit of value-added agricultural activities such as bio-fuels, entrepreneurship/micro-businesses, business feasibility studies and business retention and expansion efforts.
  3. Assistance in the Development of Economic Progress Reports on the Delta
    Such reports are valuable sources of information on the current and emerging economic development activities and opportunities in the region.

3.C. Delta Health Initiative

The Delta Health Initiative is a program designed to improve the capacity of educational and delivery programs in 18 Mississippi Delta counties. Characterized by persistent poverty and chronic health conditions such as obesity, diabetes and lack of access to affordable and quality care, the Mississippi Delta continues to be fertile ground for these types of programs.

Our Center, in partnership with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, has worked with small, rural hospitals in several of these counties to develop, implement and manage operational and managerial strategic plans to improve the efficiency and financial position of these firms. Using the “Balanced Scorecard” framework developed by Kaplan and Norton, the Extension team is also working with the Computer Applications and Services unit of the MSU Extension Service to develop an online Balanced Scorecard reporting system that will be available to firms seeking to monitor strategic plan implementation.

3.D. New Regional Effort Addressing the Growing Hispanic Population

The South has experienced rapid growth of its Hispanic population over the last 15 years. In fact, from 1990 to 2000, the growth of the Hispanic population in the non-metro South surpassed the 60 percent mark, and has grown by an additional 27 percent since 2000. The SRDC has responded to this major demographic shift by working in partnership with Mississippi State University’s Social Science Research Center and land-grant colleagues across the region to create a Southern Research and Education Activity, or SERA, titled “The New Hispanic South.”

The proposed SERA received official approval by the Southern Research and Extension Directors during 2007. Now known officially as the SERA-37 The New Hispanic South team, the goals of the group are threefold:

  • To serve as an important vehicle for mobilizing land-grant faculty to work collaboratively in better understanding the challenges and opportunities associated with the current and future growth of Hispanics in the rural South.
  • To strengthen the research and Extension outreach work being undertaken by our region’s land-grant university system that addresses the population growth of Hispanics in the South.
  • To advance the capacity of the Southern land-grant schools to provide support and guidance to rural communities that are seeking to respond to the needs of their growing Hispanic population in a positive and strategic manner.

3.E. The Farm Foundation’s Rural America Tour: Visiting the Mid South Delta Region

In August 2007, the SRDC co-sponsored and assisted with an important regional tour hosted by the Farm Foundation in the Mid South Delta region. Conducted over a three-day period, the tour provided opportunities for approximately 40 policymakers, representatives of community development organizations, NGO leaders, production agriculture, agribusiness leaders, university faculty, and state and national media to interact with individuals and organizations on the front line of rural economic development. The participants visited rural communities in Tennessee, Arkansas and Mississippi, and saw firsthand the hard work and ingenuity that local people were using in their quest to address the social, economic and environmental/natural resource challenges facing rural areas located in the Delta region.

3.F. Delta Geographic Concentration Initiative

The SRDC has provided leadership to an external evaluation team that has been charged with the responsibility of documenting and analyzing the impacts of a major project titled the “Delta Geographic Concentration Initiative.” The DGCI has provided resources to assist two intermediaries to more effectively fund locally-based community improvement activities in three target Delta sites. Over the past year, the evaluation team (made up of SRDC, University of Arkansas and Florida Atlantic University research/Extension faculty) has monitored the implementation and impacts of the DGCI in the three Delta counties by providing the organization with meaningful and objective assessments of the initiative’s progress. Furthermore, the evaluation team has offered ongoing feedback and technical assistance to the two intermediary organizations as a way of strengthening community-based activities in the targeted sites.

3.G. SERA-19: Rural Health

The Southern Extension Research Activities group focusing on rural health issues (SERA-19) continued its path to prominence as a multi-disciplinary, multi-state consortium of research and Extension professionals examining issues and developing programs to address the challenges of the Southern region’s rural health conditions. The group’s annual conference was held September 10-12, 2007, in Atlanta, GA. Conference presenters included not only several of the participants, but also experts in national and international public health programming and evaluation. Formal proceedings of the participants’ papers are currently being published. The conference’s agenda and presentations can be found on the SERA-19 Web site at http://srdc.msstate.edu/sera19.