Plan of Work
Changing Needs in Changing Times
FY 2008

In the many roundtables we hosted in 2006-07, our stakeholders urged us to expand their opportunities to have a voice in guiding the future of their community. Others urged us to work with their local leaders in finding the right mix of economic development activities that will strengthen and sustain their communities over the long-term. In areas that have suffered from decades of poverty and economic stagnation, local residents appealed to us to help find new ways to bring them hope for a better tomorrow. All in all, we were encouraged to embrace past strategies that still make sense for the region, but to also pursue innovative approaches that are better aligned with the changing times. With that in mind, we outline the three priorities that the Center will give principal attention to over the course of the 2008 fiscal year, as well as the specific activities it proposes to launch under these key priorities.

PRIORITY 1: Fostering Civic-Minded Communities

In the coming months, the SRDC will be working with land-grant faculty and key partners to launch efforts that will strengthen and facilitate the engagement of people in the life of their community. An important companion piece will be research that uncovers key factors contributing to or inhibiting the emergence of civically active communities. Core activities the SRDC will carry out over the next fiscal year include the following:

1.A Expand Civic Engagement through Public Deliberation and Leadership Development

The SRDC will complete the following activities over the next fiscal year that are designed to expand the opportunities for citizens to have a more active voice in helping guide the community improvement efforts of their localities:

  1. Serve on an advisory committee that will work on a formal proposal to the Kettering Foundation and the Kellogg Foundation to support the strengthening of civic engagement and public deliberation through the nation’s Cooperative Extension Service system.
  2. Identify specific topics of importance to the rural South that could be used to support public deliberation efforts by Extension educators in the South.
  3. Strengthen and expand the set of resources available on the SRDC website that deal with public deliberation.
  4. Conduct an inventory of key community leadership educational resources that can be incorporated into the SRDC website for access by land-grant faculty and others in the region/nation.
  5. Organize a team of land-grant faculty in the region who will work with the SRDC in planning a multi-state training that showcases innovative ways to strengthen civic engagement in local communities.
  6. Conduct multi-state training on public deliberation and other civic engagement strategies for Extension educators in the South.

PRIORITY 2: Build Economically Vibrant Communities

One of the questions that many local leaders and citizens often ask is “What type of economic development strategies makes the most sense for rural communities in the South today?” The question is critical and one that calls for the development of an economic development portfolio that is realistic and balanced. That portfolio acknowledges the value of recruiting firms that are a good fit for the community, but it also recognizes the value of looking internally -- making existing firms stronger, and unlocking the innovative spirit existing among youth and adults who live in these communities already.

In the coming months, the SRDC will be working with its rural development partners (land-grant and non-land grant) on the following efforts designed to explore important avenues for building vibrant rural economies:

2.A. Creating an Entrepreneurial Spirit: A Focus on Entrepreneurs and Their Communities

Economic data on the rural South make a compelling argument for the importance of addressing entrepreneurship in the region. Nonfarm proprietors – those who are self-employed and have no other individuals working for their business – have mushroomed to nearly 1.9 million persons on the nonmetro South. This figure has increased significantly since 2000 and many experts believe that self-employed persons will constitute 1 of every 3 jobs in 2015. In an effort to focus attention on this growing segment of the rural economy, the SRDC will continue to focus its work on the following entrepreneurship-related activities in FY2008:

  1. National eXtension “Entrepreneurs and Their Communities” Initiative
    The SRDC director will continue to serve as the coordinator for this national team. The following are the goals being pursued in FY08:
    1. Expand the eXtension FAQ System: Have at least 300 FAQs available in published form on our website.
    2. Complete Additional Information Briefs: Work with the eXtension team in completing additional Information Briefs during the year.
    3. Showcase State/Local Policies: Complete a current listing and description of state/local policies in place across the country that help support and encourage entrepreneurial activities.
    4. Develop Learning Lessons: Help develop or re-adapt web-based curricula that provide important learning opportunities to our Communities of Interests.
    5. Finalize the “Ask the Expert” System: Complete the identification and expertise of Extension educators who will serve as “experts” for our “ask the expert” system.
    6. Coordinate and Manage the eXtension Development Subcommittee: The committee will actively seek to secure extramural funding to expand the work of the eXtension entrepreneurship team.
    7. Seek Partnership Opportunities: Explore the development of working partnerships with the National Association of Counties (NACo), the U.S. Small Business Administration, and the Appalachian Regional Commission, all entities with an interest and commitment to entrepreneurship development.
    8. Serve on the eXtension AgOutlook Launch Planning Team: Work on the national committee that will be planning for the formal launch of the eXtension web-based system to be held in conjunction with the 2008 National AgOutlook Conference in Washington, DC.
  2. Entrepreneurship Education Training
    Given the prominent role that entrepreneurship is playing, and is expected to play, in rural areas of the South, the SRDC is committed to strengthening the capacity of the land-grant system to pursue work in this arena. Over the coming year, the Center will:
    1. Organize a team of Extension faculty in the region to work with the SRDC in developing a multi-year plan to provide entrepreneurship-related training to Extension educators in the region.
    2. Work with the Northeast Regional Center for Rural Development on a collaborative effort to build a focus on youth entrepreneurship education (a focus that was strongly endorsed by the many individuals in the region who took part in the SRDC entrepreneurship listening sessions in 2005-06).
    3. Begin initial plans to conduct entrepreneurship development training program in early FY2009.

2.B Strengthening Existing Firms through Business Retention and Expansion (BR&E)

Building on the economic resources that exists in rural areas already is critical. As such, the SRDC will focus efforts on strengthening the economic assets present in the rural South. It will begin doing so by pursuing the following Business Retention and Expansion activities:

  1. Organize a team of land-grant colleagues to plan a multi-state BR&E training programs in the South.
  2. Develop or assemble the set of educational resources needed to support a BR&E effort in the region.
  3. Host two BR&E training programs in the eastern and western sections of the Southern region as a way of making this training accessible to a larger number of people across the region.

2.C Expanding E-Commerce Strategies for Small Businesses

The SRDC will continue to give national leadership to the promotion and adoption of e-commerce strategies by small businesses, micro enterprises and entrepreneurs. It will do so by supporting the development of educational resources and training of Extension educators who will serve as the conduit for expanding awareness, knowledge and use of e-commerce strategies on the part of these important Extension audiences. As part of its base funds, the SRDC will devote attention to the following:

  1. Strengthen the SRDC-hosted e-commerce website, including information on current and past e-commerce grant applicants, upcoming training opportunities, resources from past training efforts, new educational curricula, and updated resources available across the nation’s Land-Grant system available via our e-commerce library.
  2. Publish the eNews newsletter six times a year and distribute to clientele across the region.
  3. Host a series of webinars that showcase the e-commerce curricula developed as part of the Rural e-Commerce Extension Initiative that the Center coordinates.

2.D Completing “Ca$hing in on Business Opportunities” Curriculum

The team of faculty organized by the SRDC to update and revise the SRDC sponsored “Ca$hing in on Business Opportunities” curriculum will complete its work in FY08. The end result will be a highly useful set of 20+ modules that address a number of topics of relevance to entrepreneurs, small firms and home-based businesses.

2.E Strengthening the Agriculture/Community Connection: Enhancing Sustainability

Blending sustainable agriculture practices with new community development strategies that serve to increase and build resilient farms, businesses and communities is a key interest of the SRDC. In the coming year, the Center will carry out the following:

  1. Work in concert with the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (S-SARE) in sponsoring a competitive grants program in 2008 that invests in the application of innovative tools to support sustainable community development activities.
  2. Work with the director of the SSARE to complete a special issue of the Community Development Society journal titled, “Sustainable Development: Connecting Agriculture and Community.” Prepare an introductory chapter for that special issue.
  3. Work on securing funding to facilitate the involvement of Extension community development faculty from the South to take part in the 20th Anniversary National SARE Conference in March 2008.
  4. Prepare a formal presentation on the S-SARE/SRDC partnership for the 2008 National SARE Conference in Kansas City, MO slated for March 2008.

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

The lion’s share of our nation’s persistent high poverty counties is located in the rural South. The challenges local residents face are monumental and across the board -- economic, educational, social, historical, cultural, and more. These are complex issues that cannot be overlooked; they are ones for which our land-grant system must accelerate its efforts to better understand and address through appropriate mechanisms and strategies.

As such, the SRDC/Southern land-grant university team will focus their efforts on the following over the next year:

3.A Addressing the Food Assistance/Nutrition Challenges of Vulnerable People and Communities in the Rural South

The Southern Rural Development Center will maintain a focus on the host of food assistance-related issues that have bearing on the region’s vulnerable populations and communities, including the persistently poor, children and youth, single parent families, elderly and racial/ethnic minorities. Moreover, the Center is interested in understanding the unique challenges facing individuals and families embedded in various spatial localities, be they in nonmetropolitan counties, rural places or low-wealth areas of the South. As part of its base funds, the SRDC will carry out the following as part of its food assistance research activities:

  1. Launch a competitive small grants research program slated for Spring 2008 to address the high priority issues identified in the realm of food assistance and nutrition. As in past years, the SRDC will continue to encourage and seek viable research proposals from research faculty located in the region’s 1890 historically black land-grant schools.
  2. Retain and work with the Food Assistance Research Advisory Committee, a 6-8 member panel of scientists from the region, that will advise the SRDC on new and emerging research topics to be incorporated in the latest request for proposals, and be part of the formal reviews and selection of successful grantees.
  3. Prepare 1-2 new Policy Briefs as a part of the SRDC Food Assistance Policy Series as a mechanism for sharing important grant-supported studies with researchers, agency representatives, Congressional staffers, and other interested parties.
  4. Prepare 2-3 new Food Assistance Research Highlights (2-4 pages in length) of research funded by the SRDC designed to better inform our stakeholders of this important research related to the social sciences dimensions of food assistance and nutrition issues.
  5. Organized and conduct a mid-year workshop with the current food assistance grantees for the purpose of monitoring their progress and lending valuable assistance that can facilitate the completion of their grants in a successful and timely fashion.
  6. Update the Food Assistance/Nutrition portion of the SRDC Website to enhance both ease of access and quality of information that is showcased on the SRDC website.

3.B Expanding Decision-Making Tools and Strategies for the Mid South Delta Region

It is critical to provide Land-Grant faculty and community leaders with ready access to a variety of economic, demographic and social indicators that can be used to better understand and respond to important shifts taking place in their areas. As such, the SRDC will develop a more specialized data set on the Mid South Delta region that provides more in-depth social, economic, educational, and demographic information that can be used to better understand and address the unique needs of the concentrated group of low-wealth counties in this sub-region of the South.

3.C Delta Health Initiative

It is critical that the health concerns of rural populations be addressed if progress is to be made in economic and social development. To this end, the SRDC will continue its work with small, rural hospitals in the Mississippi Delta, a region plagued with persistent poverty and chronic health conditions. By working to strengthen the resources and sustainability of these facilities serving such a high needs population, SRDC will be helping to foster greater health outcomes in that region.

3.D Support and Enhance the Work of the SERA-37 The New Hispanic South Team

With the official formation of the SERA-37, the SRDC will focus its activities in helping launch and support the work of this team over the next year. In particular, the Center will:

  1. Organize and host the inaugural meeting of the SERA-37 team in Atlanta, GA in February 2008. The purpose of this meeting, in part, will be to establish a core multi-disciplinary team of Land-Grant research & Extension faculty in the South that exchange ideas and information associated with the new Hispanic South.
  2. Support the development of a website that will provide timely information on the various activities that the SERA-37 team is pursuing over the coming year. The website will include a repository of research and educational resources for use by the SERA team and other land-grant faculty.
  3. Help coordinate multi-state training (including webinars) designed to enhance the ability of Extension educators in the region to lend support to those rural communities that seek to respond to the needs of their growing Hispanic population in a positive and strategic manner.
  4. Support the development of a network of research and Extension faculty across the region that can quickly and efficiently respond to capacity building opportunities that focus on issues associated with the new Hispanic South.
  5. Provide support and technical assistance in the development and production of information briefs on important dimensions of the new Hispanic South for use with internal and external Land-Grant audiences.
  6. Assist the group in its efforts to identify key research, education, and policy needs associated with the subject of the new Hispanic South and to communicate these needs to Land-Grant faculty in the region to help promote research and programming to address these needs.

3.E. SERA-19 Rural Health

To expand the presence of the SERA-19 as a visible means for facilitating research and Extension activities related to the health issues of the rural South, the SRDC will:

  1. Coordinate the annual meeting of the SERA-19 in Atlanta, GA in August 2008.
  2. Assist the group in coordination of any training programs that it might desire to develop in the upcoming year, including the Rural Health Institute.
  3. Coordinate the various communication activities of the team, including maintaining e-mail listserves, coordinating conference calls, updating and maintaining web sites, etc.