Plan of Work
From Blueprint to Action
FY 2009

Introduction

FY 2008 marked the beginning of the SRDC’s new five year plan, outlined in the SRDC’s Blueprint for the Rural South strategic document released in mid-2007. The plan showcases the three major priorities that emerged as a product of a thorough and thoughtful dialogue with rural development stakeholders in the region. These three priorities are:

  1. Fostering Civic-Minded Communities;
  2. Building Economically Vibrant Communities;
  3. Expanding Opportunities for Distressed and Low-Wealth Communities.

The following document outlines the Center’s FY2009 plan of work. That plan of work is the result of careful input provided by the Center’s 15-member Technical and Operational Advisory Committee and its 11-person Board of Directors. As such, it delineates key activities that the SRDC will continue in FY09, as well as new efforts that it will launch in order to further advance the Center’s important priorities.

The FY2009 Plan of Work of the SRDC

The following outlines the key activities and programs that the SRDC will undertake in FY09. These efforts are reported under the SRDC’s three strategic priorities.

PRIORITY 1: Foster 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. Core activities the SRDC will carry out over the next fiscal year include the following:

1.A: Initiate “Turning the Tide on Poverty” Pilot Project

The SRDC plans to launch “Turning the Tide on Poverty” multi-state pilot project in FY09. This project, modeled after the highly successful Horizons project in the Northwest region, engages members of rural, high poverty counties in a public deliberative process in hopes that local citizens will work together to address poverty in their communities. Pilot states have already been identified and Extension colleagues in these states are gearing up to actively recruit pilot communities that have high levels of poverty. Pilot states that will take an active part in this project are Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Oklahoma. Each state will select two pilot sites. Action steps the SRDC will undertake in FY09 include:

  1. Prepare grant proposals for the purpose of securing funds to support this project.
  2. Guide state coordinators in the identification and recruitment of pilot site participants.
  3. Revise the Horizons’ discussion guide, “Thriving Communities,” to better reflect the culture and concerns of the South. The new product will be titled, "Turning the Tide on Poverty."
  4. Host a series of webinar trainings for state Extension coordinators, county Extension staff and community core planning teams from the pilot locations.
  5. Coordinate the work of a research team that the SRDC will organize to help focus on the impact of this important pilot effort on the community.
  6. Provide coaching support for state coordinators during all phase of the pilot project.
  7. Convene a debrief session to learn from the pilot projects and refine the process prior to expansion of the program throughout the South.

1.B: Collaborate on the Development of a National Civic Engagement Team

The SRDC is working with the Kettering Foundation to promote civic engagement through deliberative democracy across the nation. This team will seek to strengthen Extension’s work in this area by forming a Professional Development Community of Practice (PDCoP) as part of the national eXtension system. Action steps toward this goal for FY 2009 are:

  1. Meet with a team of Extension educators and the Kettering Foundation to work on the development of the PDCoP proposal.
  2. Recruit Extension educators across the U.S. to become members of the PDCoP.
  3. Meet with a core of PDCoP members to begin designing the content for a website that will help promote the use and application of deliberative democracy educational strategies by Extension educators.

1.C: Invest in the Development of a White Paper that Identifies Key Elements of Successful Community Leadership Programs

Significant investments have been made in community leadership development programming by Extension educators over the past several years. What remains unknown is the extent to which these leadership development programs work, or the core elements that seem to make programs more successful than others. In the coming year, the SRDC will invest in the development of a research-guided product that will seek to identify the key elements of successful community leadership initiatives. Action steps to be pursued in FY09 include:

  1. Conduct a literature review of community leadership programs and activities.
  2. Determine the core elements of successful community leadership programs.
  3. Undertake an inventory of current community leadership development programs in Extension.
  4. Develop and administer a survey targeted to appropriate community leadership program contacts, seeking more in-depth information about the programs identified in Step 3 above.
  5. Assess the strengths of existing programs against the identified core elements of successful community leadership programs.
  6. Publish an SRDC document that showcases findings.

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

Although launched only a year ago, the SERA-37: New Hispanic South Team has achieved much over the past fiscal year. As a way of keeping the work of this committee on track, the Center will continue to provide support and technical assistance to this team over the next year, such as:

  1. Organize and host the SERA-37 annual meeting via interactive video conferencing. This medium will be used to help increase participation by those that may otherwise be unable to attend given current year travel restraints.
  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 deliver programs and support to communities that are seeking to strengthen their activities to address the current and emerging needs of communities that are experiencing a growing Hispanic population.
  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. Manage the team’s listserv to help facilitate communications among SERA-37 members.
  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.

PRIORITY 2: Build Economically Vibrant Communities

Particularly in this era of economic restructuring, local communities must remain attuned to the pursuit of economic development strategies that are likely to be more aligned with the set of resources and assets that are available, or can be developed, in their localities. In essence, their economic development portfolios have to be diverse and realistic, including strategies for valuing and supporting existing community-based businesses, creating an environment that is supportive of entrepreneurship among local adults and youth, and strengthening the information technology infrastructure of the community.

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 foster the development of vibrant rural economies:

2.A: Enhance the eXtension Community of Practice on "Entrepreneurs and Their Communities"

Since its inception just a few years ago, the SRDC has been a key player in the success of the “Entrepreneurs and Their Communities” Community of Practice. While much has already been accomplished through the efforts of this dynamic group, there is still so much that the team plans to contribute. Under the continued coordination of the SRDC Director, the national team seeks to accomplish the following during FY 2009:

  1. Strengthen the learning modules component via the use of the Moodle platform
  2. Expand state policy activities that showcase state investments in entrepreneurship
  3. Coordinate the development of youth entrepreneurship-related resources to the eXtension site
  4. Continue to host webinars on topics of relevance to entrepreneurs

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

Building on the economic resources that exists in rural areas already is a vital, but often overlooked, strategy for strengthening rural economies. As such, the SRDC will focus efforts on approaches for building on the economic assets present in rural Southern communities. It will do so by focusing its activities on the following business retention and expansion activities:

  1. Work with the Business Retention & Expansion International (BREI) on certification and course development.
  2. Develop new curriculum products to further advance the BR&E work in the region.
  3. Partner with BREI to deliver advanced certification courses in the region and beyond.

2.C: Expand e-Commerce Strategies for Small Businesses and Local Governments

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 by their Extension audiences. As part of its base funds, the SRDC will devote attention to the following:

  1. Continue to strengthen the SRDC-hosted e-commerce website, including information on current and past e-commerce grant applicants, upcoming training opportunities, showcasing of new educational curricula, and an updated e-commerce library of resources available that highlights resources available across our nation’s land grant system.
  2. Conduct peer reviews of all new e-commerce curricula funded as part of the SRDC’s e-commerce Extension initiative and work with the document authors on needed revisions.
  3. Carry out the technical editing and design needed to transition the curricula for on-line use.
  4. Publish the eNews newsletter six times a year and distribute to clientele across the region and beyond.
  5. Host a series of webinars that showcase new e-commerce curricula released as part of the National e-Commerce Extension Initiative that the Center coordinates.
  6. Develop and coordinate a competitive grants program that helps develop and foster the adoption of newly released e-commerce curricula by Extension educators and their customers.

2.D: Transform the “Ca$hing in on Business Opportunities” Curriculum to an On-line Module

During FY 2008, a team of faculty organized by the SRDC worked together to update and refine “Ca$hing in on Business Opportunities” curriculum. The end result is the development of a highly useful set of 20+ modules that address a number of topics of relevance to entrepreneurs, small firms and home-based businesses. During FY 2009, plans are to convert this excellent resource into on-line modules that can be accessed 24/7 by Extension educators, entrepreneurs and others who wish to access quality information on various aspects of how to develop and maintain a successful business.

2.E: Strengthen the Agriculture/Community Connection: A Competitive Grants Program

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 2009 that invests in projects that showcase innovative approaches for supporting sustainable community development activities.
  2. Showcase best practices and lessons learned from past Sustainable Community Innovation Grants projects that the SRDC and SARE have funded over the past several years.

2.F: Pilot the “Know Your Region” Training in Select States in the South

Partnering with our three sister Regional Rural Development Centers, the SRDC is helping to coordinate an effort to pilot the “Know Your Region” curriculum nationally. This educational product, created under the oversight of the U.S. Economic Development Authority, seeks to foster economic development planning and partnership across traditional boundaries. Five Southern states are participating in this initiative: Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee. Plans are to follow this pilot phase with regional trainings to extend the use of this material throughout the South.

2.G: Strengthen the Efforts of Mississippi Women in Agriculture

The MS Woman in Agriculture Program will continue the educational seminars in FY09. However, the primary focus of these seminars will be on specific risk management issues. Moreover, a series of four NxLevel entrepreneurship workshops will be offered across the state to address the demand of initiating value-added opportunities in production agriculture operations. Demand for other intensive efforts will be continually assessed and programs will be implemented when possible.

In addition, the project will continue the “Hot Topics” series of interactive video conferences that have enabled us to reach a wide range of participants and which will be important with the new Farm Bill. Furthermore, planning for a second State Conference will be undertaken in FY09. Finally, electronic communication strategies such as a blog and listserv will be pursued in order to enhance communication activities among the Woman in Agriculture participants. The hope is that approximately 300 producers will be reached through these educational activities.

2.H: Conduct ARC Economic Distress Research

The SRDC will work in partnership with colleagues at Ohio State University and Penn State University to pursue work related on an Appalachian Regional Center supported project titled, Developing and Assessing Potential Forward-Looking Distress Indicators for the Appalachian Region. This initiative will seek to develop new alternative distress indexes and to evaluate their performance vis-à-vis the current ARC measures. The project will build on the research team’s past work for the ARC, as documented in the report An Assessment of Alternative Measures for Determining Economically Distressed Counties and Areas in the Appalachian Region (April 2008). It is in this earlier report that the strengths and limitations associated with ARC’s current indicators were outlined. Building from the team’s past research for the ARC, the current project has three goals:

  1. Provide an intensive evaluation of alternative forward-looking indicators along with other indicators;
  2. Develop a series of new distress indices;
  3. Compare the performance of these new distress indices along with the current distress index used by the ARC.

PRIORITY 3: Expand 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 projects and activities over the FY09 period:

3.A: Create the “Upward Communities” Website

The SRDC will build a new website titled “Upward Communities” that will showcase innovative programs and valuable resources that can help communities explore new strategies for pursuing poverty alleviation activities. In addition, valuable data that can help track the nature and extent of poverty in the Southern region will be available on the site.

3.B: Address the Food Assistance/Nutrition Challenges of Vulnerable People and Communities in the Rural South

The RIDGE program (a program that addresses food assistance and nutrition issues low-wealth people and communities) has been suspended by the Economic Research Service/USDA for FY09. As a result, the SRDC will focus on three key activities this year: (1) host a meeting of the FY08 grantees whose projects will be completed and submitted in FY09; (2) prepare 3-4 policy briefs that provide highlights of recently completed RIDGE projects funded by the SRDC; and (3) do preparatory work on a new grant proposal to the ERS in hopes of securing a new round of funding for SRDC’s coordination of the RIDGE program in the Southern region.

3.C: Identify Promising Strategies for Poverty Alleviation

A host of initiatives are striving daily to help those struggling in poverty to advance to a higher economic plane. Yet, many of these are conducted in isolation without adequate opportunities to learn and share with others involved in similar work. During FY 2009, the SRDC plans to initiate an effort to identify and showcase promising strategies for poverty alleviation. This project will involve a number of steps, including:

  1. Conduct an inventory of work being currently carried out by the Southern LGU’s related to poverty
  2. Identify Research, Extension and Teaching professionals working in this arena
  3. Identify promising strategies emerging from the inventory process
  4. Design a communications network to foster collaboration among the professionals interested in this work

It is the hope of the SRDC that the results of this effort will be incorporated in the “Upward Communities” website outlined in item 3.A above.

3.D: Launch the Resilient Communities Project in Partnership with CSREES & FEMA

“At risk” can mean a lot of things, depending on the situation. But for those facing an impending natural disaster, it often means those not having organization or resources in place that help individuals, families, and neighborhoods prepare for and respond in an effective manner to a variety of natural and man-made disasters. FEMA has given attention in recent years to this critical issues, investing in a newly developed process for helping “at risk” communities build the capacity to prepare for and respond to local disasters.

During FY2009, the SRDC will share this process with communities in five pilot states for the purpose of securing their input and insights about the “emergency preparedness” process that FEMA is considering delivering to low-wealth communities and disadvantaged populations in the U.S. The five pilot states selected to take part in this project are Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, Missouri, and Oklahoma. Each state will select two communities with high incidences of “Presidential Disaster Declarations” coupled with higher levels of social vulnerability (i.e. high poverty, low education, high disability rates, etc.). Participants from both the emergency management sector as well as representatives from “at risk” groups and/or communities will come together for a series of three community-based roundtables. The SRDC will prepare a final report that outlines components of the emergency preparedness process that the 10 pilot community sites view as highly useful as well as improvements that communities feel are needed in order to make the emergency preparedness process more effective.

3.E: Continue to Support the Delta Rural Revitalization Project

The Delta Rural Revitalization Initiative will focus on the following activities in FY09:

  1. Provide assistance and technical support to the two Extension educators located in the MS Delta region who are engaged in community and economic development efforts in the region;
  2. Support the work of the Delta Data Center, helping equip the center with important secondary data it needs to assist local economic development organizations need to help attract firms to the region;
  3. Support applied research activities that address current and emerging community/economic development opportunities in the region, such as specification of the economic contribution of agriculture in the 18 Mississippi counties that are part of the MS Delta Region.

3.F: Enhance the Delta Geographic Concentration Initiative (DGCI) Data Library

Build on the Mid South Delta Data Library funded by the Walton Family Foundation by expanding the data base to all counties in the region. (Note: the data library currently focuses on 58 counties/parishes in the Mid South Delta region). Next, create data templates that can be used to showcase state or county data on key areas, such as demographic, economic, education, and social organizations.

3.G: Expand SERA-19 Rural Health Activities

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 pursue the following in FY09:

  1. Help the group transition the Rural Health Institute curricula to an on-line professional development curriculum employing the Moodle platform.
  2. Coordinate the various communication activities of the team, including maintaining e-mail listservs, coordinating conference calls, and updating and maintaining the SERA-19 website.

3.H.: Contribute to the “Managing in Tough Times” National Initiative

In an effort to respond to the economic challenges facing individuals, families, businesses, and communities across the U.S., the SRDC will work with a national team of Extension leaders in the launching of the “Managing in Tough Times” (MiTT) Extension initiative. In particular, the SRDC will:

  1. Work with the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service in hosting a national meeting of the MiTT in Dallas, TX;
  2. Identify a small panel of Community Development (CD) Extension experts across the nation and invite them to serve on the MiTT Community Development Team;
  3. Coordinate the work of the Extension CD MiTT team via conference calls and face to face meetings;
  4. Help identify key community and economic development resources available in land-grant schools across the country that Extension educators can use to deliver educational programs and technical assistance activities to communities facing major challenges as a result of our nation’s economic problems;
  5. Serve on a national team that will coordinate the building and populating of a special eXtension website that showcases key information/resources that can advance Extension’s MiTT initiative in states and communities across the nation.