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Success Stories


Community Projects That Work

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The 28 feature stories in this chapter highlight successful development projects launched by Champion Communities, EZ/EC communities and other rural communities. They are meant as inspiration to impoverished communities in search of sustainable development ideas, and as examples to all readers of this report of the many, diverse ways in which rural communities are creating local programs as long-range solutions to the many social and economic problems they face.
"There's always a group that likes things the way they are. Our county is one of the 100 poorest in the nation...When the EZ/EC came along, the community was ripe and ready."
-- Judy Martin,
Perry County, AL,
a Champion Community


Abbeville County Development Board
Abbeville, SC

Alternative Transportation Project
Boone & Bowling Rock, NC

Barbour County Office of Economic Development
Barbour County, W. VA.

Boys, Girls, Adults Community Development Center
Marvell, AR

Clifton-Choctaw Reservation
Rapides Parish, LA

Delta Community Development Corporation
Seven Counties in Arkansas Delta

Denmark Community Outreach Enterprise,
Denmark, SC

East Prairie/Epworth Enterprise Community,
East Prairie, MO

Eastern Orangeburg Enterprise Community,
Holly Hill, SC

Federation of Southern Cooperatives,
Greene & Sumter Counties, AL

Flat Woods Community-Based Development Corp.,
Eastern Kentucky

Hale Empowerment & Revitalization Organization,
Hale County, AL

Immokalee Foundation,
Collier County, FL

Kemper County Economic Development Authority,
Dekalb, MS

Little Dixie Community Action Agency,
Hugo, OK

Minnesota Corn Processors,
Marshall, MN

Missouri U.S. 36/I72 Association,
Chillicothe, MO

Mountain Enterprise Community,
Webster County & City of Richwood, W. VA.

Newton County Resource Council,
Jasper, AR

PATHWAYS Community Development Commission,
Dermott, AR

Perry County Commission/Chamber of Commerce,
Perry County, AL

Project 70,
Embarass, MN

Raton Chamber & Economic Development Council,
Raton, NM

Salem Area Community Betterment Association,
Salem, MO

Southern Mutual Help Association,
St. Mary Parish, LA

Van Buren County Hospital,
Keosauqua, IA

Williamsburg Enterprise Community,
Williamsburg, SC

Willapa Bay,
Southern Washington

Abbeville, SC, taps riches of past for economics of future

    Strategic plan focus:
  • Instituting Heritage Corridor
  • Forming regional partnerships
  • Preserving historic neighborhoods
  • Promoting area's culture & history

The small town of Abbeville, South Carolina, came into being in 1755 as a result of a treaty with the Cherokee Indians. People were drawn to the area because it offered a source of fresh water. Over 200 years later, people are still drawn to the area, to search old churches and graveyards for family roots, to delve into the rich Indian heritage, or to simply enjoy the beauty of this spot nestled between Lake Russell and the Blue Ridge Mountains. Townspeople know the area has much to offer, and they are capitalizing on its rich history as a vehicle for economic development.

In the late 1960s, Abbeville embarked on an historic preservation program, which led to the restoration of its 1908 Opera House, which doubles as city hall, and renovation of the downtown square. In 1971, the entire town was declared a National Historic District. One of the town's famous historic spots is the Burt Stark House, where Jefferson Davis met with his council of war to dissolve the Confederacy.

But during the 1990s, the business community realized it needed help.

"We need to work together as a region," said Anne Clarke, executive director of the Abbeville County Development Board. "We can't do it ourselves; we are too small and too rural."

So the town joined forces with a number of other communities and the idea of a Heritage Corridor was born.

The Corridor would run the length of the state, from the mountains to the sea, and incorporate parallel trails a Heritage Trail and a Recreation Trail. The state Department of Transportation awarded a $300,000 grant to study the proposal and soon consultants hired for the project are to present their plans.

The effort is the result of grassroots work, Clarke said. It began about five years ago when a popular antique store in Abbeville burned. While people still came to town on weekends to attend performances at the Opera House, weekday traffic dropped dramatically when the antique store closed. Tourist dollars went elsewhere.

Hosting town meetings

The state Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism stepped in to help the town look into ways to restore the number of visitors. It was soon apparent that the town needed to work with other communities in order to broaden the scope of what could be offered to tourists.

Meetings were held in every little town in the county. Everyone agreed on the desire to present the area's culture and history to visitors. The project soon blossomed into a two-county destination plan. And then Charleston heard about the effort and wanted to participate. The idea for the Heritage Corridor was off and running. 

Clarke said those involved in the project are hopeful it will receive designation from the National Park Service as a national corridor, of which there are only a few.

The effort to establish the Corridor has brought many people together in a common goal, Clarke said.

Early in Abbeville's efforts to reclaim its heritage, the Department of Interior (Historic Preservation) offered help, as did faculty from the University of South Carolina and the State Archives and History Department (through which federal money wasaccessed). The state Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism and Department of Transportation have also assisted.

"The bottom line of all this is preservation and conservation, but also economic development," Clarke said.

Abbeville , SC . . . has a population of 5,778 people, of whom 54% are white and 46% are black. Average per-capita income is $10,284.

Boone & Bowling Rock, NC, aiming for "alternative transportation plan"

Web will take citizens & visitors "anywhere they want to go" in surrounding Blue Ridge Mountains
    Strategic plan focus:
  • Alternative Transportation Improvement
  • Providing tourist transportation
  • Adopting Boulder, CO, transportation web
Boone, North Carolina, may be a Champion Community but it's not poor, according to Hunter Schofield, town council member and former project manager of the Alternative Transportation Project (ATP). The disproportionate number of low-income college students in Boone masks a vigorous economy.

However, Schofield, a recent graduate of Appalachian State University (ASU), says, "Two miles outside the city limits of Boone, the landscape and socio-economics change dramatically."

Schofield's mentor, Professor of Anthropology Harvard Ayers, is also chair of the Sierra Club's Southern Appalachian Highlands Ecoregion Task Force and project director of the ATP.

Ayers elaborates, "Boone and Bowling Rock are mountain communities with an elevation of 3,500 feet. They are constrained by a topography that makes transportation planning difficult. Appalachian State University is the heart of Boone. Bowling Rock is a retirement and tourism community." The towns are seven miles apart in the northwest corner of North Carolina.

Strategy #36 in Boone's EZ-EC strategic plan reads: "Implement an alternative transportation plan." In early 1993 both Boone and Bowling Rock had adopted comprehensive plans that called for alternative transportation. Next, Ayers' Sierra Club Task Force and the Watauga County League of Women Voters organized a steering committee of local citizens to draft grant proposals and develop an ATP.

By year-end 1993, the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, Kathleen Price and Joseph M. Bryan Family Foundation, Janirve Foundation, Sierra Club Foundation, two bike shops, both town councils, a bicycler's organization and a merchant had all contributed to a $44,000 project budget.

The primary beneficiaries of the ATP will be students and tourists.

"Tourism," emphasizes Schofield, "is the number one industry in Boone and the state. Tourism is driven by recreational, visual and aesthetic amenities. We're nestled in one of the most environmentally attractive places in the world, the Blue Ridge Mountains. It's a natural draw, but we can't keep visitors here very long. Once people visit historic downtown and ride the Tweetsy railroad, there's nothing else to do. No rails-to-trails or greenways, no mountain biking. No way to get anywhere without a vehicle. We're following the model of Boulder, Colorado, creating a web of alternative modes that will take citizens and visitors anywhere they want to go."

Forum draws 850 people

Ayers points out that the ATP process was unique because community groups (Sierra Club and the League of Women Voters) formed the impetus. Their success, especially in drawing 850 people to a planning forum, he attributes to the fact that the process was grassroots-based, not government-based. Usually transportation planning is done by government officials, who then hold minimally-advertised meetings for public comment that few attend.

By early 1994, the ATP steering committee had hired two consultants and established five committees -- Boone bikeways, Boone pedestrian, Boone mass transit, ASU and a combined committee for Blowing Rock. Each committee met at least twice, preparing preliminary proposals.

On April 11, 1994, 850 people attended the opening session of workshop week and gave their feedback to the preliminary plans. Probably 60% of those attending, says Ayers, were students. Schofield, a student environmental organization and committee members "put the word out in a big way." The right people were there to observe the turnout, including the Chancellor of ASU, the North Carolina Deputy Secretary for Alternative Transportation and Mass Transit and a regional engineer for the North Carolina Department of Transportation.

Largely complete by September 1994, the ATP reports the demand for alternative transportation and assesses current level of service. The crux of the plan are two pages that constitute a five-year Alternative Transportation Improvement Program (ATIP).

Ayers says the top priority is a seven-mile loop around Boone and a five-mile loop around Bowling Rock. Total estimated cost of the ATIP: about $4M.

Unfortunately, the State of North Carolina allocates only $2.2 million a year in Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA) funds for bicycle projects of which the maximum annual funding per community is $300,000.

"Most of that money," says Schofield, "has gone to the Durham-Raleigh-Chapel Hill area." In contrast, "the state spends hundreds of millions for road projects. Because of culturalization and the centralized nature of the state department of transportation, it's going to be real hard to make a dent in the armor around road money. North Carolina is called `the road state.' We have more miles of road than any other state."

Competing for bike funds

But Boone and Bowling Rock, with the first ATIP in North Carolina, will compete aggressively for state bicycle funding. The community made such a strong political statement of support that Schofield has been able to channel City of Boone resources toward survey work and right-of-way and easement acquisition in order to fast track Boone's $300,000 proposal to construct a third of the town's seven-mile loop.

Because Bowling Rock's loop is entirely within state highway right-of-way, the Department of Transportation has already approved $300,000 to construct a 1.6 mile leg.

"The fact that Bowling Rock has received money so rapidly," Ayers says, "is evidence of DOT's pleasure about the comprehensive, community-based nature of our planning process."

Schofield and Ayers plan to take their model of ATP to other North Carolina communities.

"If every community did this, the pressure on the state would be such that the $2.2 million would balloon," Ayers says. In the meantime, they pursue other options. "We're looking at a $10 per student fee," he notes. "That'll raise $100,000 a semester."

To get the attention of ASU Chancellor Frank Berkowski, the student environmental organization entered a recent homecoming parade, bearing a huge sign: "Open the bank, Frank."

Boone, NC . . . is located in a census tract of 12,915 people, of whom 94.2% are white and 4.7% are black. Average annual per-capita income is $8,725. 

Barbour County, W.VA. at work on 5 main points of strategic plan

As decline of coal mining brings economic hard times...
    Strategic plan focus:
  • Boat docks built
  • Youth Build Program
  • $500,000 state grant
  • New industrial park
The decline of coal mining, the closing of coal-trucking businesses, and the near-loss of its hospital put the 16,000 people of Barbour County, West Virginia, in deep economic despair.

"Everyone began to feel the effects," resulting in a 19 percent unemployment rate, said Lisa Sharp, executive director of the Barbour County Office of Economic Development. The BCOED was created by the lead agency in this Champion Community's planning process, the Barbour County Development Authority.

Adding to the devastating unemployment rate was a community politically divided over whether a major landfill development would be invited into the county. Something was needed to bring Barbour Countians together. That something was the EZ/EC application process, which was marked by the creative manner of finding links among the goals which county residents wanted to pursue.

The process, and the hiring of Sharp at the front end rather than after the plan was completed, has helped Sharp act as a liaison among the five organizations under the BCOED umbrella.

"They were working on many of the same problems individually that we're addressing now; they just weren't able to create the linkages,' she said.

Beginning with the more traditional effort of recruiting industry to an area, here's an example of how Barbour County's linkages work:

Making linkages work

Business development doesn't come without infrastructure. One of Barbour County's main problem is the lack of public water to all areas of the county, Sharp said.

The source of the county's water is the Tygart River, a river popular with rafters in the spring and fall leading planners to the next link, tourism.

Boat docks have been built on the river and a hiking trail is being planned on an abandoned railroad right-of-way donated to the City of Philippi.

In addition, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been directing their efforts to the well-being of the Tygart River. The focus of their studies has been to preserve the river's fish population and to lessen the threat to two small municipalities in the county that are regularly flooded. And one thing leads to another.

The county is moving ahead in the pursuit of the five main goals outlined in the 10-year strategic development plan it produced for the EZ/EC application and at times, it makes needed adjustments.

For instance, housing and vocational education were a part of the application.

"We've needed to improve our housing availability for a long time. We now have an FBI fingerprint facility a half-hour away in Clarksburg, West Virgina, so we need more housing in order to be a `bedroom community,'" Sharp said.

"Youth Build" program

The creators of the EZ/EC strategy plan wanted to develop a training program for the county's young people tied to housing and to the manufacture of prefabricated housing components.

"But now, instead of doing it ourselves as in the plan, we've joined with a neighboring county's program called Youth Build," Sharp said.

The young people are trained to build homes, and they are paid for their work. The project provides affordable housing and each student gets a salary, the possibility of earning a GED, books and tools that they can keep.

"We are very excited about the opportunities that this program can provide to the residents of our county," Sharp said.

The state of West Virginia is lending a hand to Barbour County to implement its strategic plan with a $500,000 Small Cities Block Grant as first-year support of a two-year effort. The state has made the offer to each of its Champion Communities.

Many new employers have been enticed to the county's newest industrial park, including a plastics plant which will, when in full production, employ some 35 people. The county has also landed a furniture manufacturer employing 25 people, a limestone quarry and a 40-unit motel.

FEDA grant: targeting industry

A recently completed economic development strategy funded by a grant received from the Federal Economic Development Administration targets desired future industries and has initiated a database of industrial properties.

In pursuit of a well-educated and technologically literate work force, new curricula have been adopted at the Barbour County Vocational Center and Philip Barbour High School. County residents also now have Internet access at the Philippi Public Library.

To improve the delivery of health care services, the county is helping to develop a resource directory of area social service agencies and the services they provide. The West Virginia Rural Health Care Network is surveying area health care officials to better coordinate health care services and eliminate obstacles to rural health care.

Barbour County's goal to improve infrastructure to meet all other goals involves working with the WV Housing Development Fund on financial assistance and low-interest loan programs for low and moderate income families; working with government entities on multiple projects to improve highway access to and through the county; and in several current projects helping to renovate water and sewage treatment plants in the county.

"The planning processes we've gone through have really increased the understanding of people that it is necessary to plan for the future," Sharp said. "At first, it was difficult when we asked them to visualize what they wanted for the county in 10 or 20 years. It's hard to get them to dream."

Now, Barbour County residents have been able to set aside their differences, Sharp said, adding that "We've learned a good lesson about the benefits of working together."

BCOED . . . is in a census tract of 341 square miles and 15,699 people, of whom 97.6% are white. Average annual per-capita income is $8,036. 

Delta town helps kids by helping their parents:

Center addresses gamut of problems with holistic approach
    Strategic plan focus:
  • Job training for mothers
  • Special programs to help young black men
  • Parenting, literacy and child care programs
  • Operating three community businesses
Fifteen miles west of the Mississippi River in the Arkansas Delta town of Marvell, the Boys, Girls, Adults Community Development Center (BGACDC) has been operating since 1978.

Serving the Marvell School District, population 6,700, BGACDC was a partner to Champion Community Mid-Delta Community Services, the submitting agency for the EZ-EC application.

What began as a project to save young African American men, has evolved into a comprehensive community development organization.

Marvell: An impoverished town

Beatrice Clark Shelby, executive director since 1982, says, "We found out children weren't going to school because they didn't have current immunization. Every time we did one project, we found another piece missing. We discovered that to serve youth, you had to develop a holistic approach of helping parents."

Shelby pictures poverty in the Marvell area as, "dilapidated housing, children running around with no where to go for recreation, no pools, no movies, no jobs, no bowling alley or up-to-date library and streets with holes."

The goal of BGACDC is to produce a community with affordable housing, a health system accessible and affordable to all residents, an education system that promotes the education of children and adults, no spousal abuse and young adolescents -- especially young black men -- encouraged andenabled to reach their full potential. In short, Shelby says the goal is to make a model community of the Marvell School District.

With a core staff of four, BGACDC operates on a $700,000 budget, of which $90,000 is rental income from a 39-unit, low-income housing complex purchased with $1.4 million in Farmer's Home Administration financing. Another $18,000 is income from a restaurant and $11,000 is from child care services provided.

BGACDC's many supporters

Foundations like W.K. Kellogg, Robert Wood Johnson and Winthrop Rockefeller chip in, so do agencies like Arkansas Better Chance, the Delta Health Education Center and the State Alcohol and Drug Use Prevention program.

Revenues fund an array of projects, a sampling of which includes: a summer day camp where staff train youth in reading and literacy while providing arts and cultural programs and nutritional meals; a Job Training Partnership Act program to train mothers in construction trade skills; a first-time home buyers program for low-income families; and a HIPPY (Home Instruction Program for Pre-School Youngsters) program that prepares mothers to become their children's first and most important teacher.

In addition to its holistic approach, another key principal at BGACDC is shared-decision making.

The Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation is putting BGACDC staff through a training program called Training Community Organizations for Change (TCOC). It also applies to BGACDC's relationship with their clients.

An eleven-member board of directors, 300 dues-paying members, an advisory committee for each BGACDC program component and regular parent meetings are strategies to make BGACDC representative.

But being representative isn't difficult when "we're providing services for ourselves, our brothers, sisters, nieces and nephews. We live with the people we serve."

BGACDC . . . is located in a census tract of 277 square miles with a population of 6,718 people, of whom 50% are white and 49% are black. Average annual per-capita income is $6,156. 

Louisiana tribe producing 300,000 pine seedlings in '96

Without federal recognition, Clifton Choctaw struggle alone
    Strategic plan focus:
  • Straw-baling project
  • Forest Service pine seedling project
  • Pine seedling nursery
  • American Indian arts/crafts shop
  • Working to upgrade access road
  • High school tutoring program
Asked about the barriers to economic development she's encountered, Anna Neal, Tribal Representative of Clifton Choctaw Reservation Inc. says, "Nobody listens."

Recognized by the State of Louisiana but not yet by the federal government, Neal points out that the Clifton Choctaw are ineligible for the various and sundry economic development programs that target recognized tribes. Nor does Louisiana provide assistance.

"Indians are on the bottom of the totem pole," she says.

Established in the early 1800's by runaway Indians from the Trail of Tears, the Clifton Choctaw are struggling to trace genealogy and meet the seven criteria for federal recognition, a process that Neal describes as taking 10-20 years. However, Neal adds, "The tribal council not only serves Clifton but also 13-14 nearby communities of poor whites who are worse off than we are because they have no leadership."

Presently 326 Clifton Choctaw live in the area, about 85 households. Neal considers the EZ-EC program "business-as-usual" because it left her tribe out in the cold.

Well, maybe not cold. Not in west Rapides Parish where the real problem isn't weather but the worst road -- "crooked with pot holes all over the place" -- in the entire parish.

That road and access for a new tribal business are high priorities of Neal, who says, "We need help with infrastructure to attract industry."

After a successful straw baling venture between Kisatchie National Forest and the tribal council, the Forest Service offered the Clifton Choctaw tribe the opportunity to become the first and only growers of containerized long leaf pine seedlings in the state.


Neal says it's a good business because "they're cutting everything in the world down here, and my people are familiar with trees. We grew up in the forest and swamps."

1994 was the first year of a five-year contract to supply the Forest Service with containerized seedlings. Neal and her husband helped capitalize the first growing season, which produced 100,000 seedlings. An FMHA loan financed the second season when the tribe produced 200,000 seedlings.

Next, the Administration for Native America -- just about the only federal agency, says Neal, that will help unrecognized tribes -- provided a grant that will fund the cultivation of 300,000 seedlings in 1996. Now the tribe wants a grant from FMHA for an access road for the nursery off Highway 28 West.

500,000 seedlings by '98

Adjacent to the nursery is the American Indian Arts/Crafts Shop built with a $19,000 grant from the Campaign for Human Development. With contract production increasing annually by 100,000 increments, the Clifton Choctaw will supply the Forest Service with 500,000 seedlings by 1998.

The growing season begins in late April, when workers plant seeds in greenhouse flats. Several times over the growing season, workers prune back the seedlings. In December or January, the Forest Service plants them. The seedling business provides four year-round jobs and Neal hopes to develop another 15 or so seasonal jobs.

"You have to understand that our people are the last hired and first out," she says. "If someone can get $100 a week, they can pay a utility bill. Right now young men have to travel to south Louisiana to work any oil field job available to pay utility bills and feed their families."

Education ranks right up there with roads. Neal is "in cloud nine" that four Clifton Choctaw young people graduated from college in 1992, with another two to three in college now.

No more drop-outs

"College used to be a foreign word. Matter of fact, high school was a foreign word," she says.

Just five years ago 85-95% of students dropped out. No longer. For the last five years, not one Clifton Choctaw student has dropped out. Neal credits the accomplishment to a program that provides tutoring services two evenings a week.

But there's always the possibility that having Anna Neal knock at the door is another incentive.

"I tell my people the only way out of poverty is education," Neal says.

Clifton Choctaw Reservation . . . has a population of 181 people with an average annual per-capita income of $2,805. 

Using Ford Foundation CDC model, community creates many programs

In most poverty-stricken area of Arkansas Delta
    Strategic plan focus:
  • Adopted Ford Foundation CDC model
  • Founded agriculture park
  • Operating fish processing plant
  • Planning other value-added farm products
  • Issues microloans to community entrepreneurs
  • Teaching business skills to low income people
  • Church Project works on jobs, daycare centers
The Delta Community Development Corporation's service area is the most poverty-stricken region of the Arkansas Delta, including Lee, Cross, Crittenden, Monroe, Woodruff, St. Francis and Phillips counties.

"We don't have any jobs over here," explains Executive Director Martha Locke. "Plants have moved out. Job opportunities are very, very slim."

The seven-county population dropped from 175,974 in 1980 to 160,405 in 1990. To further clarify the situation, Locke adds, "When you grow up and your neighbor is in the same shape, you don't realize you're poor. You think it's a way of life. You may or may not go to school. We have a lot of unmarried mothers and low birth-weight children."

A model promoted by the Ford Foundation , Community Development Corporations (CDCs) are nonprofit organizations dedicated to revitalizing urban neighborhoods or rural areas.

Established in 1991, Delta's first major project was a panelized house manufacturing plant. It went bankrupt due to undercapitalization and management problems. The number one lesson, says, Locke, is "You need someone to work with the project that knows what they're doing." Delta is responsible for the defaulted $275,000 loan. "It's still choking us. We have to repay it without anything to show, and it put Delta in a bad position with creditors."

From that failure, "The board of directors learned a lot and want to make sure they run the fish plant differently."

The fish plant is part of a fifty-acre agriculture park funded by $1.5 million from Farmer's Home Administration and the Department of Health and Human Services. Ten of the acres are presently allocated to a Delta-owned, for-profit venture designed to fund the nonprofit operations.

Morning Fresh fish plant

Morning Fresh is a 11,200-square-foot facility with a fish-processing plant on one side and vegetable processing planned on the other. The strategy is to add value to local commodities. Nearly operational, Delta is in the process of hiring a management team to operate the fish plant, which will hire thirty workers and produce catfish filets, steaks and breaded products. Presently, Delta has leased the other forty acres for soybeans but is considering other ventures.

"We're looking at waste recycling and producing catfood, dogfood or compost from fish by-products," she said.

Aside from direct job creation at the plant, Delta hopes a local processing facility will encourage more farmers to go into fish production.

"We figured if we did a for-profit ourselves, we could expand our own business skills and create capital for other ventures," Locke says.

Loan funds aid entrepreneurs

Having good business skills within the organization (four paid staff, one Americorp volunteer and one Vista volunteer), is crucial, considering Delta's major focus on loan programs.

Delta uses funds from two federal lending programs -- Small Business Administration (SBA) microloans and the Rural Economic and Community Development's Intermediary Relending Program (IRP) -- to capitalize entrepreneurs who have a solid business plan but can't get credit from a bank. Delta gets about $140,000 in 2% money from SBA a year and has made thirty microloans ($1,000-$25,000 in amount) for projects like daycare centers, working capital and an ethnic clothing store.

"These are loans that banks say are too small or cost too much to write up," Locke says.

IRP money can finance loans up to $150,000. Delta applied for and received $1 million of the 1% money of which they have lent $600,000 for a fish farm, a beauty/barber boutique, a washateria in Albury and a granary in Cotton Plant.

Delta offers technical assistance classes and individual tutoring on topics like inventory control. They are in the process of creating videos of their training program. Locke says, "We help people work on whatever they're weak on."

Grant funds Church Project

Funded with $130,000 from Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation, another key initiative is the Church Project -- economic development to black churches.

"The ministers are working on job creation projects. Some have established daycare centers and CDCs," she said.

With 127 churches working collaboratively, the Church Project is focusing on developing a resale business for slightly damaged goods. Soon a delegation of ministers will travel to Africa to explore markets there.

Delta CDC . . . serves a 3-county area of 4,278 square miles. 55.4% of the population of 160,401 is white and 43.9% is black. Average annual per-capita income is $8,092. 

Denmark, SC strategic plan: Focus on helping youth & families

    Strategic plan focus:
  • Summer youth recreation
  • School tutoring program
  • Families First Program
  • Business development plan
  • Historic renovations
  • Promoting tourism
  • Building a park, gazebo
Unlike many communities, it has been the whites in 78% black Denmark, South Carolina, who felt excluded from the decision-making process.

Elona Davis became Denmark mayor on the platform, "Every citizen is an asset." Once elected, she initiated a public involvement process that entailed public meeting upon public meeting, and the new tradition continues.

"A small town can die," she says, "if everyone doesn't feel a part. It takes diversity to make a small town, or any town prosper."

Tapping into the genuine interests and concerns of citizens has led to a renaissance in this Champion Community. "I get a warm , such a warm feeling from our meetings," Mayor Davis says. Every action in Denmark seems to breed more action; now a quilt of initiatives patches holes in the community fabric.

The origins of poverty in Denmark go way back. Before integration, black students attended the Episcopalian Voorhees high school and junior college where teachers had a caring attitude and a concern for families.

After integration, black students moved into the previously all-white high school where teachers, often from out-of-town or out-of-state, did not have the same caring concern for families. As white families transfered their children to private schools, public schools suffered financially.

Later, the Sunbeam plant, a mainstay of the local economy, closed. "When there is no job to go on to, some families don't place a value on education," explains Davis.

Illiteracy, teen pregnancies, no jobs

Poverty and breakdowns in the economy and social structure have all contributed to a high drop-out rate. Not adequately prepared or qualified for meaningful jobs, young drop-outs would start a family and have a lot of children.

Shortly after Davis' election, a group of young adults came to her and "expressed concern about the condition of young people. They felt deprived of cultural, recreational and social activities."

This group, initially composed of twelve young adults, became the Outreach Committee. The first thing Mayor Davis did, in consultation with the committee, was to set-up a summer recreation program. Over 300 youths attended daily.

Looking at youth concerns

This success gave the youth more hope and inspired them to participate in the EZ-EC planning process. One student ran (albeit unsuccessfully) for city council; others, help with an after-school tutoring program. Now the Outreach Committee is more representative of the community at large, but it continues to look at youth concerns and the dynamic of poverty. One strategy is social development; the other, economic development.

The Denmark Creative Learning Center and the Families First program deal directly with the community's social context. "When young people realize they have support and interest it makes a difference; it restores confidence and creates an interest in learning," Davis says.

Creative Learning Center

In a building leased by the city, Denmark Creative Learning Center operates an after-school homework center. Volunteer teachers, including students from Voorhees College and Denmark Technical College, assist children from primary, middle school and, occasionally, high school between 3:00 and 6:30 weekdays. Suspended students, who before spent their days downtown on the streets, are a new target for Learning Center services.

Meanwhile, the Families First program bridges the gap between the State Department of Social Services and the interfaith community. Representatives of various churches cooperate to both identify and meet the needs of individuals. For example, an elderly woman without family needed transportation for medical treatment. The young manwho agreed to provide transportation got so involved with her that he visited regularly and helped her move.

The Outreach Committee's economic development efforts center on attracting new businesses and encouraging tourism. "All viable downtown business spaces are now occupied," says Mayor Davis. Additionally, she has three new prospects on the line.

Known as the dogwood town, Denmark is becoming a tourist attraction. Hometown artist Jim Harrison created a dogwood stencil that citizens painted on the city water tank. Through forestry grants, the community planted $40,000 in new trees.

The City of Denmark, at minimal expense, financed the restoration of the old railway depot, which won a South Carolina Downtown Development award.

Park, gazebo, block cleanups

With $240,000 in Intermodal Service Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA) funds, the city will construct a new park and gazebo downtown. City-wide block clean-ups are a new routine and so is dealing with abandoned homes.

"We're also renovating the old Dane (as in Danish, as in Denmark!) Theatre downtown, as a civic center. It was one of the first theatres in the area," Davis says. "The Downtown Development Association solicited contributions to purchase the theatre, then the city took over ownership, holding fundraisers and allocating money for renovation. With a minimal amount of work, people couldn't believe what they saw."

Heritage Corridors

Denmark is in an envious position geographically located at the intersection of Highways 78 and 321, two new "Heritage Corridors" destined to draw visitors. The Highway 78 Corridor runs from Charleston on the coast to Oconee County, Georgia, while the Highway 321 Corridor runs from Colombia, South Carolina to Savannah, Georgia.

"People who say `it can't be done' or `you'll never change things'," according to Mayor Davis, have been the biggest hurdle.

But Governor David Beasley didn't acknowledge Mayor Davis with a Rural Summit Leadership Award last year for nothing. "I respond that even if you have differences, if you have common goals, you can work together."

Denmark, SC . . . has an area population of 6,668, of whom 78% are black and 21 are white. Average annual per-capita income is $6,501. 

EZ/EC brightens future for residents of East Prairie, MO

    Strategic plan focus:
  • Constuction of recreation complex
  • Education incentive program
  • Welfare-To-Work Progam
  • Family developmemt programs
  • Futures Program for teen parents
  • Senior citizen and youth latchkey programs
  • Industrial park & job training
The successful planners in the Enterprise Community located in the agriculturally dependent boot heel of Missouri have big ideas in mind -- and small ones too.

The City of East Prairie, Mo., and the Epworth Bootheel Family Learning Center proposed a joint project to improve its workforce. One part of the plan, the big part, will build a $1 million recreation complex. Another part, a smaller one, is to offer a season's free pass to the swimming pool for students who don't miss any school during the year.

"We think that's one of the reasons for our success," said Kathie Simpkins, East Prairie city manager. "We listened to the people in our community."

Although agriculture "has been our salvation" and has stayed steady or grown, due in part to crop diversification, "more is needed," Simpkins said.

About 56 percent of the population age 25 and older has no high school diploma; there is a high illiteracy rate, a high drop-out rate, many unskilled workers, and many on welfare.

The plan calls for the development of a Systematic Education Incentive Program. "We'll go into the schools and find out what it is that would motivate students to stay in school." Community leaders are being trained to work with schools and make contact with students.eastpr3a.jpg - 11.6 K

Incentives are possible for older people, too, Simpkins said.

"In the 25-60 year old group, if they're on the Welfare-to-Work program, we could give them credits toward making a down payment on a car if they get their G.E.D. We've even talked about an incentive program toward getting a down payment on a Farmers Home Administration house."

Family development programs are high on the East Prairie-Epworth list. To combat the high juvenile delinquency rate, the Epworth Center has established a program for high risk kids.

"Epworth sees the family as a unit. They have 30 families in their program now, who are on assistance. The adults are now in G.E.D. and the family receives self-esteem classes to help them learn to change their lives, how to make a budget and how to communicate," Simpkins said. eastpr2.jpg - 10.9 K

Epworth sees an expansion to 60 families thanks to the EC designation. The state Economic Development Department has helped toward that goal with a $117,000 tax credit. A local bank that owns the facility will donate the building to Epworth.

The City has also contracted with the State Division of Social Services under its "Futures Program." A case manager has been hired to work with teen parents, the result being that 22 teenagers are now back in school or have graduated, and are in college or vocational technical school. The program provides transportation and child care, and the students pay the program back by producing a newsletter and going into the schools to discourage other students from getting pregnant or dropping out of school.

Other family programs will be centered around the East Prairie Recreation Corp.'s family recreation facility. Once the facility which will include softball, baseball, tennis and lots of other recreation is constructed, two latchkey programs are planned. One will target students who are at high risk of dropping out; it will provide tutoring (with the aid of the parents) and require 45 minutes of homework right after school. Then it will organize activities for play. A similar program already underway at Epworth has seen grades on standardized tests rise above the state average.

The second latchkey program will serve senior citizens with programs in addition to the noonday meals they now can receive.

By 1997, this Enterprise Community plans to have a two-family model duplex. One would be a crisis facility to shelter women and children from abuse; the other would house a model family who has been trained through Epworth, who have overcome their own family problems, to serve as mentors to the crisis families. To build these duplexes, local carpenters are training interns a link with the need for job training since there is no building trades program at the high school anymore.
east-pr1.jpg - 11.6 K

The city plans to purchase land for an industrial park and to construct a 50,000-square-foot "speculative" building to try to attract new industry to East Prairie. With luck, the job loss seen in the county in the last four years more than 500 jobs when Brown Shoe Company, a printing company and others closed can be turned around. The City has secured the property owned by the bankrupt printing company and a new industry which employs 130 people started production in August, 1995.

East Prairie, MO . . . has 4,312 residents, of whom 98.7% are white. Average annual per-capita income is $8,106. 

Hurricane, recession & defense downsizing wrack SC county

.....But EZ/EC planning process helps Eastern Orangeburg residents to pick up the pieces
    Strategic plan focus:
  • Seeking nonprofit 501 status
  • High school level job training
  • Emergency medical service
  • Water supply plan
  • Creating scenic loops
  • Revamp/build city parks
  • Weekly church letters
Due to Hurricane Hugo in 1989, downsizing of the defense industry, the closing of the Charleston Navy base and decline of the southern textile industry, the Eastern Orangeburg Enterprise Community (EOEC) is down but not out.

The Champion Community (composed of the towns of Bowman, Holly Hill, Providence, Santee, Vance and Elloree in eastern Orangeburg County, South Carolina) is now incorporated by the state and working on 501(C)(3) nonprofit status.

According to S.B. Marshall, chairman of EOEC, "We're on a shoestring budget. Funding is a problem. Businesses and churches have supported us some, but businesses could donate more, support us more." Marshall is also chairman of the school board, pastor of two churches and owner of a funeral home.

Public Outreach

EOEC does, however, maintain an office staffed with volunteers and Americorp workers. Outreach is one thing that EOEC does very well. Rotating from community to community, meetings of the steering committee continue monthly.

"We have three or four newspapers, so they all send reporters to publicize what we do. That helps a great deal. We send publicity letters to churches that are read on Sunday morning," explains Marshall. EOEC also uses radio announcements.

The goals developed for EZ/EC haven't changed, Marshall points out, "but the timeline has because we haven't had the wherewithal." The current impetus is in job training, health care, infrastructure development and beautification.

Career opportunity alliance

An alliance between the high school and Holnem Cement Plant has led to conferences between teachers and plant staff and workshops for students. By making students aware of career opportunities with Holnem and developing a curriculum that produces qualified workers, Marshall hopes that "people can stay home and make a good living."

"Jobs at Holnem start at $30,000 and go up. Georgia Pacific is working with us also in the same capacity. We have to find jobs for these young people to keep them here," Marshall says.

He adds: "We're concentrating on health also. We have an emergency set-up now between Holly Hill and Vance. The response time is shorter. Before, it was a trip of 65-70 miles."

EOEC got emergency medical service by going up "in great numbers" to lobby the county council.

The simple, indispensable ingredient of water oftenforestalls economic development in rural areas.

"Our area -- the lower eastern part of Orangeburg County and the upper part of Dorchester County -- are joining together. We'll have an ample supply for any industry coming to the area," Marshall says.

Beautification projects

Margaret Uzzle, another civic leader, explains beautification efforts.

"Part of the idea is to attract tourism, part is to generate pride," she explains.

The Highway 78 "Heritage Corridor, a trail to attract tourism into rural counties" runs just south of Bowman. The idea of a Heritage Corridor came from Abbeville, South Carolina, which had parking problems that led to a county meeting that led to the idea of attracting tourists in route to the Olympics in Atlanta.

Abbeville County applied for a grant from the state Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism (PRT), who then got interested. "It was a grassroots effort. PRT now manages the program; they consult to help counties develop resources along the route," Uzzle says.

Scenic loops off Highway 78 will draw tourists deeper into the flatlands of eastern Orangeburg area. One attraction will be the renovated depot at Holly Hill. CXS Railroad donated the building, while the city purchased the land. Next they secured Intermodal Service Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA) funding to renovate the building, which will become a civic center.

"There will be a pictoral museum on the walls; it will honor different people of all races," says Uzzle.

Repairing & building parks

United Telephone is funding work at Roy Gilmore Park that will restore damage done by Hurricane Hugo.

"It's a quiet park with pathways and places to cook out with families," she says.

A retired banker donated the land for new J. Francis Folk Park, which Uzzle describes as an active, as opposed to a quiet, park with Little League and other athletic fields.

"When asked what he considered the impediments to the strategic planning implementationprocess, S.B. Marshall said, "We have a multiracial group working together, but we always have a segment of those who would rather not be multi-racial."

EOEC . . . is located in a census tract of 220 square miles with 14,497 people, of whom 68% are black and 31% are white. Average annual per-capita income is $7,956. 

Federation of Southern Cooperatives wins EZ/EC designation

Funds used for aggressive job creation plans & other projects
    Strategic plan focus:
  • Expanding existing industry
  • 1,000 new jobs in 10 years
  • Rural Training Center
  • Loan & equity investment fund
  • Infrastructure investment fund
Years of proving their commitment to the poor of western Alabama has brought the Federation of Southern Cooperatives (FSC) to a point where it has become the catalyst to unite diverse segments of the community.

The process was the planning that led to a successful Enterprise Community application of Greene-Sumter Counties, including six census tracts that are among the poorest in the state.

"Here was a project where blacks provided for the community something that couldn't otherwise be available," said John Zippert, director of operations for FSC.

The Federation, a community-based organization, had brought in many dollars since 1967 when it was founded, "but much of the money before was considered special interest," Zippert said.

The EZ/EC Program offered incentives to draw people together who hadn't been on board before, Zippert said.

"There was some resistance between the two counties at first, some turf battles. Some people went with us (FSC) on faith. When people have needed help in the past, we have come to their aid," Zippert said.

But FSC's main reason for success, Zippert said, "is that the EC program is from the bottom up, as democratic and as open as possible, with participation from the unemployed to the president of the bank."

Zippert said that developing a willingness to work is hard. "Once you get there, people are willing to volunteer their time hundreds of hours of time in meetings, taking surveys. It's a collective spirit. The poorer among them know they don't have the resources on their own, but if they pool what the do have, you begin to make progress."

In the midst of progress, it's important to "keep the mission in front of us. We try not to get clouded now that the money is coming," Zippert said.

The money will be used for a wide range of goals outlined by the EC community. One thousand new jobs in 10 years is the anticipated result of expanding existing industries, recruiting new ones and developing small businesses.

Rural Training Center

Literacy, basic adult education and employment skills through the Rural Training Center sponsored by the FSC and Land Assistance Fund (LAF) fall under the plan's education and job training targets.

Other goals include improving infrastructure, health care, housing, environmental quality, transportation, recreation, culture and law enforcement.

Partnerships formed by the planning process have brought in many players who weren't at the table before, Zippert said.

"We have banks, business interests who weren't in before, and county and city officials who had done a little with housing before but this has really opened up a lot of possibilities," he noted.

The Credit Union and Farmers Association were members of FSC before the application. "We have good representation on steering committees, good communication through our community network," Zippert said.

Tapping the resources

The EC plan builds on natural strengths and locational advantages, Zippert said. The EC leaders identified the natural resources of the area (timber, sand, gravel, limestone, lignite coal, good soils and forestry) as well as the "people resource." Despite few educational opportunities, "we have a large workforce of skilled, semi-skilled and trainable people," Zippert said. He estimates 11,000 workers in the two counties.

The workforce will be interested in the jobs created by the location of a new Mercedes Benz automobile plant in Vance, Ala., 50-75 miles away. "This makes us a prime location for spin-off and suppliers industries," Zippert said.

Among the EC's successes here is the securing of a plant to mount and balance tires which will employ 30-40 persons.

Zippert is proud of the economic development, but he recognizes the need for community development as well. "This is an area of tension that remains," he said. "Some people say the money should be used only to create jobs. But what about day care? It's needed too."

Zippert says this kind of tension is healthy. "Every project will have to go thorough multiple screens."

But he has seen the traditional kind of economic development fail. "We got the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway and Black Warrior River Barge project. There never was much development," he said. " Infrastructure by itself doesn't bear up."

Establishing loan funds

The plan for $2.6 million of the EC money is to set up three flexible funds: a revolving loan and equity investment fund of $1.5 million; an infrastructure investment fund of $500,000; and an education and training fund of $600,000. The remaining $350,000 will be matched to cover costs for staff, operations and administration.

Zippert has problems with one of the directions the operational money has to go.

"The state of Alabama is taking 3 percent of the money as an administrative fee. We bargained them down from 10 percent. That equals $88,500. If Japanese industrialists were coming in here to build a $3 million plant, the state wouldn't charge them to locate a plant here. Why do they need to take 3 percent of this money?"

Still, Zippert is excited about how FSC has proved that it can bring people together and be successful in such a large proposal. "We are getting some measure of grudging support from those who thought we'd mess it up. Now that we have the grant, people treat us like a person with lots of money."

FSC's strength is success. "We are a community-based organization with 25 years experience of being on the outside and knowing how to organize to get political representation and funding for the projects we sponsor." located in a census tract of 1,004 square miles, having 20,942 people, of whom 73% are black, 26% are white and 19% are of other races. Average annual per-capita income is $7,369. 

HERO's welfare-to-work program:

40 women find jobs through training sessions at catfish plant
    Strategic plan focus:
  • PRIDE Center
  • Family resource center
  • Hiring office staff
  • Juvenile detention center
Geographic isolation and a lack of political clout had left south Hale County, Alabama, on the wrong side of the "Mason-Dixon Creek."

"Up in the north part of the county, near Moundville, they're benefitting from the rapid growth of Tuscaloosa," said William (Sonny) Ryan, chairman of the nonprofit organization which was the lead agency in Hale County's EZ/EC application. "They're just 15 miles from Tuscaloosa; we're more rural down south."

But the division isn't stopping Ryan and others from all parts of Hale County from being HEROs members of the Hale Empowerment and Revitalization Organization, now a Champion Community.

Springing from a solid strategic plan to improve the plight of more than one-third of the county residents who live in poverty, HERO will soon be hiring a director and a staff of four or five.

"We're about to get $400,000 from the state of Alabama and various agencies and nonprofit corporations," said Ryan. "They like what we've done."

What they've done since they got together to make a bid for EZ/EC funding is join hands with a local industry, and with help from the state and local universities, alter dramatically the lives of many of Hale County's poor people.

The industry is Southern Pride Catfish, which employs 600-700 people in Hale County where most of Alabama's catfish production is centered. Southern Pride purchased a mobile home and named it the "PRIDE Center."

"They work with the Department of Human Resources and screen the women who come in there for welfare. DHR picks out 12-15 women who are unemployed and the women report to work at the PRIDE Center to work and also get life skills training," Ryan said.

"These are women aged 20-40 who may never have worked in their lives to support themselves," he said.

Since May, the public/private partnership has been

instrumental in getting 40 women off welfare. "And Southern Pride gets a much higher retention rate from these employees," he said.

Approaching the problem of unemployment with training in mind, HERO proposes to build a Family Resource Center, a place where all social services can be housed together.

"It's like a one-stop for welfare, housing, classrooms for job skills training, day care and G.E.D. And the people using the facility will get parenting training as well because they will act as assistants for the day care center," Ryan said. A manufacturing plant on site, perhaps a sewing plant, will provide on-the-job training.

Juvenile center proposed

A partner with HERO is another organization Ryan chairs: the West Alabama Youth Services (WAYS). It has in the works a plan for a regional juvenile detention center to be built on the same site as the Family Resource Center. The detention center would provide work for Hale Countians, and the other buildings in the complex would provide much-needed services.

"We want to build a group home, a shelter for abused children, training for unwed mothers and alternative schools," Ryan said.

The alternative schools are needed to prevent the "planting of criminal trees," Ryan said. "The way the law is now, if a kid is found with weapons or drugs in school, he must be expelled. We need an alternative for these kids and also for those expelled for behavioral problems." Otherwise, said Ryan, who speaks with authority as a district judge, the youths often turn to crime.

HERO is also concerned about its residents' health care. The problem is getting there. "We have limited transportation, so it is difficult for people to get to the medical care providers." But, Ryan said, while public transportation needs to be expanded, another solu-tion would be to take the medical care providers to the people.

"WAYS has received $75,000 from two different state agencies to develop five centers throughout the county which would provide community centers as well as health services," Ryan said. "That way, everyone can get services just by traveling two or three miles, not 20."

Providing social services

Five agencies providing social services would also use the centers each one visiting one day a week at each of the five centers. The idea of bringing social services to the people has been done already at Southern Pride. "Employees can get their social services needs met while they're still on the clock," Ryan said.

Ryan said the innovative ideas of HERO are the product of "a good group." In a county where 60 percent of the residents are black, and traditionally black and white residents have not worked together, Ryan sees some hope.

"We held community meetings in rural churches and people would have meetings at their houses. Before this process, we seldom would have seen white people going to a black person's house for a meeting. When I saw that, I knew it would work. We have overcome the race barrier in HERO."

Laughing, Ryan tells of an even more unexpected partnership: "Why, we even got Auburn and Alabama working together!" The two universities, rivals in the sports arena, have given HERO invaluable help in planning and evaluation.

What's in the future for HERO?

Ryan sees the possibility of self-support through income from the juvenile detention center and the manufacturing center. If not, "we'll get a grant." After all, Ryan said, that's what has made HERO a success so far: "Perseverance."

HERO Hale County, AL . . . is located in a census tract covering 644 square miles with a population of 15,498 people, of whom 59% are black and 40% are white. Average annual per-capita income is $8,164. 

Loans, grants help Florida county to address housing dilemma

..Immigrant farm workers grow winter crops there
    Strategic plan focus:
  • USDA RECD $6.3M loan
  • New single-family housing
  • Housing rehabilitation program
  • Development of rental housing
  • Airport Authority created
  • Industrial Park proposed
Statistics sometimes hide anomalies. Most residents of Collier County, Florida, live along the southwestern coast and statistics show a 1990 per-capita personal income of $25,600.

Just 45 miles east of Naples, in an agricultural belt, is Immokalee with a per capita income of only $5,600, a pocket of poverty.

According to Fred Thomas, Vice-President of the Immokalee Foundation, 80% of vegetables and citrus grown in the United States between November and March are produced in the greater Immokalee area. The need for seasonal labor to harvest crops of tomatoes, cucumbers and oranges makes Immokalee a port of entry for new immigrants.

Thomas says the population around Immokalee is 65% hispanic, 11% Haitian and the rest are black or white.

"Housing is very short," Thomas stresses. "A farm working family often spends $175 a week for a trailer. People park RVs in their driveway for extra rental income or rent out their garages. Take an old crew bus, paint the windows, remove the seats and you can get $50 to $60 a week without interior facilities."

Founded in 1991 by descendants of the Collier family for whom the county was named and largely funded by a charity event called The Horse Trials, an equestrian event with dressage, stadium jumping and cross-country competition, the Immokalee Foundation set out to improve both the outside perception of Immokalee and the reality of poverty.

"Housing and economic diversity are our main needs," says Thomas. "NAFTA is having a major impact, causing packing houses to close down because of competition with Mexico."

Failing to attain Empowerment Zone status hasn't slowed the initiatives generated by the citizens of Immokalee. Thomas credits much of Immokalee's success to the personal interest shown the Champion Community by FMHA official Jan Shadburn, who visited Immokalee several times to help the community implement its plan.

USDA's Rural Economic and Community Development division has loaned $6.3 million for new single family housing, the rehabilitation of existing housing stock and development of rental housing for farm workers.

Other partnerships play a role in attracting capital. Funding for 80 additional units of farmworker housing is pending. To assist the project, Barron-Collier, a large farming corporation, donated 18.5 acres; Collier County waived all impact and other fees; and a local attorney donated legal services.

"Trying to identify resources is an ongoing barrier," states Thomas. Considering the $12 million in loans and grants approved for rural housing ($6.3 million) and water and sewer projects ($5.7 million), plus another $5.3 million pending for health care facilities and $5.2 million for farmworker housing, other communities might covet such a barrier.

Immokalee models a stick-to-it philosophy. Striking out on Empowerment Zone status, a bid for a USDA research lab and state of Florida Enterprise Zone status -- all big prizes -- Immokalee has moved its plan forward a piece at a time.

In addition to housing initiatives, Collier County and the business community of Immokalee are working together to update what Thomas calls a "jewel."

"It's an old World War II airport with long runways that were used for touch-and-go landing practice. It didn't have much infrastructure for an airport. We've created an airport authority and plan an industrial park there too," he said.

Other projects like a phased expansion of Naples Community Hospital into Immokalee and water and sewer projects are also making headway.

Immokalee Foundation . . . is located in a census tract of 126 square miles and 5,984 people, of whom 57% are white, 22% are black and 21% are other races. Average annual per-capita income is $5,617. 

With 45% poverty, Mississippi county aims to boost business & jobs

    Strategic plan focus:
  • Speculative industrial building
  • Community college "Rapid Response Team"
  • Plan to boost civic pride
  • County catalog of goods, services
  • Small business incubator
  • Family Matters Conference participation
Building on what is good about the state of Mississippi, the Kemper County Economic Development Authority (KCEDA) in DeKalb sees a future filled with good-paying jobs and a boom in tourism and industry.

"Mississippi has one of the better job-training systems in the nation," said Gary Matthews, director of the KCEDA, the lead agency in the community's EZ/EC application. "And we're in a strategic location," set in the middle of several hubs of economic activity.

"We're 25 miles from a major Indian casino, so that we can benefit from the tourism by commercial development along a local highway," he said, "and we're the same distance from Meridian (MS) which is in a major growth spurt."

Faced with massive unemployment, at times up to 26 percent, a 70 percent loss in population, 45 percent of its population in poverty and more than 50 percent of the county's residents commuting each day to work in another county, DeKalb was in a viscous cycle of poverty.

"Add to that the fact that of the people who do live here," Matthews said, "73 percent don't pay property taxes."

The tax exemption is available to persons in Mississippi who are qualified as disabled. "Many are not truly disabled," Matthews said. "Some just get a physician's excuse and present it to the tax collector, and the tax collector has to, by law, grant an exemption."

Only 27% pay property taxes

Matthews and others concerned with the impact of this law on small communities have gone before the legislature to try to change it. "The legislators aren't willing to end it because it's too popular."

With only 27 percent of the county's residents paying taxes, DeKalb has found itself hard-pressed to come up with the money needed to provide the infrastructure to lure industry to the area. So as early as 1984, residents began strategic planning.

"We now have the funds to build a speculative industrial building as a tool to offer industry moving in here," Matthews said. "And with the work we've already done, we've added 1,100 jobs. They're still low-income jobs, and we want to emphasize higher paying jobs, but we need the facility for that."

TVA & ARC fund building

The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) and the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) are the funding agencies for the speculative building.

Once the building is completed in the 200-acre industrial park, Matthews said, the county can call in the "rapid response team" from East Mississippi Community College.

"When an industry is interested, the colleges come in and train the workers needed, whether it's fiber optics, laser or advanced computer logic, they can handle it."

Because Kemper Countians have, for so long, had to leave the county for work, making it a bedroom community to Meridian, "there is a lack of pride in our city," Matthews said.

So, KCEDA has plans for improving civic pride, as well. "We will make a major push in the next year," Matthews said. "The first is to organize the business people to work together toward a common goal."

With so many leaving the county every day for work, "there are few people left to do business here, and they are poor. We lost well over 60 percent of our businesses in the last 30 years."

The mentality, Matthews said, was to go to Meridian to shop, so the businesses in Kemper didn't work together. "They thought they were in competition for what little money was spent here," he said.

To help the businesses work together, and to help residents in the county understand what is available there, the KCEDA has developed a catalog of goods and services available in the county.

"The small businesses in the county are divided among rural routes and telephone exchanges, so that most calls within the county are long distance. People are reluctant to call around to find out where they might find what they want. With the catalog, residents know they can buy what they need right here in the county and keep the income and sales tax revenues here at home."

The catalog has been printed in mass quantities anddistributed through banks, city hall and other public places.

Another boost is the Small Business Incubator. "We're one of few rural incubators in the nation," Matthews said.

The KCEDA got several grants to get the incubator started and two more are helping expand it.

"It's a sheltered environment for new and expanding businesses. They share services and have low rent. We help them get up and on their feet, because most small businesses fail within the first five years," Matthews commented.

While an 80 percent success rate for small businesses incubated in such environments is impressive, Matthews warns small communities to be careful with incubators.

"It's the hardest economic development task to undertake, because you deal on a daily basis with struggling businesses. Every day is an emergency; their problems are your problems."

Another major area of concern for KCEDA is family issues.

"With help from the ARC, we're involved with other residents in the Meridian Trade Area, which makes it a two-state effort with Alabama," Matthews said.

Family Matters Conference

The Family Matters Conference in Merdian will teach financial management, parenting skills and communication skills to those who attend.

The KCEDA has asked for foundation funding to help some families afford transportation, and after the regional conference, "we hope to have a local conference," Matthews said.

Kemper County, MS . . . covers 766 square miles, with a population of 10,358, of whom 55% are black and 43% are white. Average annual per-capita income is $8,049. 

Kentucky project capitalizes on local people, resources & culture

    Strategic plan focus:
  • Mountain Arts & Culture Center
  • Attracting "cultural" visitors
  • Promoting tourism
  • Grassroots Database
  • Marketing local products
  • One-Stop Capital Shops
Back in your own backyard that must have been the tune Doug Arnett whistled as he nurtured the bottom-up plan that has become Flat Woods Community-Based Development Corporation, Inc. in Kentucky. Arnett, a Kentucky native and president and CEO of the 2 1/2- year-old corporation, wants Flat Woods to concentrate on its own its own people, its own resources, its own culture.

Encompassing all or part of four counties in eastern Kentucky's Daniel Boone National Forest, the Flat Woods project concentrates on using local products and people and on retaining capital locally.

"The people here know the problems of the area, and they need to develop solutions that blend into their culture," Arnett said. "For too long, the mountain poor have been encouraged to blame their own culture for their problems. This project is a way of embracing the culture as we find solutions."

Flat Woods was incorporated six months before the EZ/EC legislation was enacted. Although the project did not receive EZ/EC designation, Arnett sees Champion Community designation as an aid to other funding avenues.

At the heart of the project to create jobs and improve job training is the Mountain Arts and Culture Center. While it is designed to attract tourists and their dollars, thus providing strong incentive for the preservation of the area's natural beauty and the development of better roads, the Center also will serve as the hub of many community development endeavors and services.

"You can't view the Arts and Culture Center as a physical facility," Arnett said. "First of all, in addition to the multipurpose building planned, there will be centers of activity scattered throughout several hundred thousand acres.

"Beyond that, we see the project as a way of attracting not tourists, but what I call cultural visitors. Many of these will be people who had to leave Kentucky in the 1950s for jobs and who are retiring now. They have been visiting the area anyway, but now they'll have even more reason to come back for family reunions, community reunions and to teach their children and grandchildren more about their roots," Arnett said.

Supplying the lifeblood to the project is the Grassroots Database. It will be a repository not only of ideas and resources for planning and marketing local goods wood products, hand-made quilts, local produce but also of information about the local culture. It will even compile a list of former residents who have left the area and their whereabouts.

This establishes a link to outside markets more receptive to local products and provides a potential source of expertise to share with the local residents.

Tapping retiree expertise

"The people who left eastern Kentucky by the tens of thousands in the '50s still call Kentucky home," Arnett said. "They may live in Ohio or Michigan, but this is their home. We hope many of them will retire and return here, bringing their expertise to young Kentuckians, teaching them valuable job skills that will help sustain our economy."

Other job-creation ideas include tying placement of apprentices to the availability of financial assistance for new businesses, and the establishment of a "One Stop Capital Shop" to help small businesses or homeowners get the money they need.

"Eastern Kentucky has always had the natural resources and the human resources," Arnett said, "but we've never had the capital."

While local government does work to attract outside industry, Arnett said importing industry does little to sustain the local economy. "It may offer wages to our workers, but it drains wealth and natural resources and sends the profit out of state. We need to retain profit from industry."

Arnett said the Flat Woods corporation has begun preliminary discussions with Rural Economic Community Development toward a $2 million revolving loan fund for small business.

Working on housing grant

In addition, Flat Woods has been designated as a Community Development Housing Organization by the Kentucky Housing Corporation, a nonprofit organization through which Housing and Urban Development monies are distributed. Flat Woods has received a $10,000 administrative grant to begin work toward a half-million-dollar grant.

Ambitious though it may be, the Flat Woods project provides an inspiring model for Champion Communities. Serving one of the highest concentrations of poverty in Appalachia, the project seeks to educate and elevate its residents by helping them to rely on themselves.

Flat Woods CBDC . . . serves an area of 938 square miles with 29,632 people, of whom 99.5% are white. Average annual per-capita income is $6,081. 

Oklahomans unite; receive EZ/EC status in "last hope" effort

    Strategic plan focus:
  • $2.9M in EC funds
  • $735,000 RECD loan/grant
  • Creating tourism plans
About their strategic planning process, Oscar Stewart, enterprise community coordinator for Little Dixie Community Action Agency in Hugo, Oklahoma, says, "it got communities working together that never have before. We're not five census tracts now but a community working together to implement a plan they produced."

Before the planning process, there was a separtist movement: each community for itself; each county for itself. And Stewart adds, "as much hostility between McCurtain and Choctaw counties as there used to be between Indians and whites."

Launching the process was a matter of staging a public meeting, inviting residents of eligible tracts, describing the EZ/EC process and asking those who attended if Little Dixie should proceed. The consensus was "yes."

Census tract reps

The biggest problem along the way was agreeing on what census tracts to include. Overcoming that hurdle, citizens establiished a planning committee with seven representatives from each tract and a steering committee with five representatives from each tract. For both committees, at least one representative from each tract had to be low income; in many tracts, the majority were low income people.

The planning committee's job was to hold local meetings and get information to the 27-member (five representatives from five tracts plus a representative from Little Dixie and another from the Kiamichi Economic Development Agency) steering committee, which had decision-making power over what went into the plan.

"We still run 25-27 members at each steering committee meeting. People take their role as steering committee members very seriously," Stewart explains. "Differences come up at steering committee meetings, but we never walk away from a meeting with a problem."

Grassroots effort

Stewart never forgot what a USDA official said at an early training workshop for interested communities, "if you go out and attempt to do the plan around a desk and don't involve people, we'll know that."

"We sold the program as something new, and people bought the idea. They want a change in this part of the world and see it as the last hope. This is the only program where we got to tell the federal government what we wanted and needed to be self-sustaining."

People came out of the barrens of southeast Oklahoma for meetings. McCare funded a two-day training workshop facilitated by consultants from California and open to the public. One thousand people attended.

"The governor came down for the second day. We told him we'd have 1,100, and he didn't believe us," Stewart said.

Now an Enterprise Community, local interest remains high because people are starting to see results. The current focus of meetings is coming up with proposals for how to spend the $2.9 million EC funds and locating additional financing. "It's a continuous process, until the plan is completed," Stewart notes.

In addition to the $2.9 million EC funding, the town of Sawyer won a $735,000 grant/loan package from RECD (Rural Economic and Community Development) for water and sewer improvements.

"Without designation, Sawyer never would have incorporated and wouldn't have gotten the money," Stewart noted.

Two other communities looked into incorporation, discovered they already were and requested reinstatement. The town of Hugo has applied for $10.3 million from RECD for sewer improvements.

The most innovative element of their plan, Stewart says, is the tourism package.

"We wanted to take advantage of what we already had," he said. Assets include Ft. Townson where Confederate General Waite surrendered and an old Choctaw Indian Plantation on the Red River where the negro spiritual Swing Low, Sweet Chariot was penned.

Kiamichi Corridor Authority

Plans also include development of Hugo Lake with a marina and motel, plus an excursion train that will run from the west to east side of Choctow County. To head the tourism effort, citizens formed the Kiamichi Corridor Authority and hired a director.

Asked if race has been an issue, Stewart says, "Poverty doesn't go by race. We don't have a large Hispanic population, but we do have a large Native American population. The chairman of the steering committee is Native American. The vice-chair is black. The steering committee is what America is made of. Race has tried to stick its head in but has been cut off by the steering committee."

Little Dixie . . . is located in a census tract of 866 square miles and 16,100 people, of whom 65% are white, 20% are black and 15% are other races. Average annual per-capita income is $6,849. 

Minnesota corn farmers form co-op, build processing plant

Jobs & value-added agri products bolster economics of area towns


    Strategic plan focus:
  • Value-added agricultural products
  • Equity/financing requirements
  • Wastewater management/environmental concerns
  • Energy/transportation issues
  • Marketing strategies
Success isn't brick and mortar, says Bob Nerhus, manager of the Minnesota Corn Processors (MCP). "You need the right group of people."

As a result of the right group of people getting together, some 1,200 farmers in southwest Minnesota benefit every time there is an increase in the demand for baked goods, ice cream, antibiotics or ethanol.

"Because we had good leaders who focused on what the project would be eventually, and not on rewarding themselves," Nerhus said, "we've been successful."

MCP is a modern corn wet-milling cooperative plant which employs 100 people and processes 11 million bushels of corn each year, grossing up to $50 million in sales.

"We started out in 1983 as an ethanol proposal, but we changed to a full-blown corn wet milling plant," Nerhus said. Now the processors produce corn starch, corn syrup and high fructose corn syrup in addition to the ethanol.

"We did market studies at the beginning," Nerhus said, " and decided to change the nature of the plant.

Not only did the change serve a market of higher demand, it may have helped the cooperative get funding.

"Banks had had bad experiences with ethanol plants which had been overbuilt and were rotting away," Nerhus said. MCP got its financing from the Bank for Co-ops, Farm Credit and other agri lenders.

As the plant has grown, new products have been included to add value to the corn.

"We've had lots of breaks," Nerhus said. "The companies that were competing with us in the early years were concentrating too much on future products. We went with stable growth. They were more global; we picked up the domestic share of the ment market. It was just luck."

Luck and some sound planning. As the group was forming, board members learned everything they could about the corn wet-milling operation by research of literature and tours of plants.

A series of committees performed specific tasks. A legal committee worked on bylaws; a finance committee studied equity requirements and financing sources; a plant site committee gathered data on utilities, energy and transportation needs and costs, as well as wastewater management and environmental considerations; and a marketing committee identified specific markets for the products.

In 1981, a town-to-town campaign for members netted 2,100 farmers from 18 counties committed to about $900,000 in seed money to help fund the preliminary research needed to insure success.

"There were about 1,150 who really gave money," Nerhus said. These original MCP members then had to raise 40 percent of the equity to build the plant, roughly $20 million. The fund drive resulted in the largest equity pool ever raised by a cooperative at the grassroots level.

Although MCP is thankful for its partnerships in the early days, some lessons have been hard-learned.

"The City of Marshall helped us by letting us tie in with a new waste treatment plant, but we found out later that was a problem," Nerhus said.

"Whatever goes wrong with the city waste treatis automatically blamed on MCP. Now we have a plant in Columbus, Neb., and we have our own sewage treatment plant. We also plan to build a new facility in Marshall and we'll have our own treatment plant," he says.

What started with 2,000 people, none of them getting any pay, meeting in groups at the back of coffee shops, is now the successful Minnesota Corn Processors. What's in the future?

"We can only react to the marketplace in a growth mode," Nerhus said. "In that mindset, we may look three or four years into the future, but no further."

Minnesota Corn Processors . . . is located in an town of 12,023 people, with the population 99% white. Average annual per-capita income is $11,851.

Northern Missouri residents work to upgrade Highway 36

...Rumery: "Good roads attract people & industry. Development ends on the two-lane."
    Strategic plan focus:
  • Upgrading nearby highway
  • Highway corridor coalition
  • Legislative lobbying
  • Business development
For people in rural, northern Missouri, development is being hindered by the lack of infrastructure specifically a decent highway. The northern third of the state does not have access to an east-west, four-lane road. But the Missouri U.S. 36/I72 Association is out to change that.

Association President Terry Rumery lives in Chillicothe, a town of about 9,000 people which lies in the middle of the state alongside Highway 36.

Lack of highway damaging

"We have a tremendous (financial) investment here in Chillicothe," he said, "but we've lost a tremendous amount to other states" because of the lack of access to a good highway. This lack, he said, "has definitely had a financial impact on our area."

Good roads, he said are "real important to industry and development, like the railroad used to be. But you get off the highway onto two-lane and the development stops."

Rumery acknowledges that much highway money goes to metropolitan areas because they pay more in taxes.

"But out here in rural America, we don't even have shoulders to pull off of. We can't get population until we get a highway. But we're still trying to get some striping," he said.

Highway 36 path

The main section of Highway 36 stretches from Denver to Chicago. Along the way, it crosses the Missouri River at St. Joseph, Missouri, cuts through numerous rural towns and exits the state when it crosses the Mississippi River at Hannibal. In Illinois, the road is designated as Interstate 72.

In Missouri, about half of Highway 36 is now a four-lane. Rumery and the Association won't stop pushing until the remaining two-lane is upgraded to four-lane. The ultimate goal of the group is to have the Missouri section of the highway also designated as Interstate 72.

"We're extremely proud of the fact that while building the highway into a four-lane they (the Highway Department) are acquiring rights-of-way and land needed to bring it up to interstate standards." By building to interstate standards, Rumery said, the designation should be easier to obtain.

Association formed in mid-80s

The Association was formed in the mid-1980s, and its members currently numbering about 100 are communities, businesses and individuals. Individual members pay annual dues of $36, businesses pay $100 and communities contribute at least $100.

The group works closely with the Missouri Highway Department and other corridor coalitions, who are working to improve other roads in the state.

The Missouri Transportation and Development Council acts, in effect, like an umbrella organization above the corridor coalitions. The council does most of the lobbying and information gathering and keeps members of the various coalitions up to date.

State's 15-year plan

The Association was instrumental in the drive for a long-term highway construction plan. As a result, the state Legislature adopted a 15-year plan in 1992 which calls for all communities of 5,000 or more people to be connected to a four-lane highway by the year 2007.

Part of the plan calls for a six-cent gas tax, to be implemented in two-cent increments every two years. In the spring, the last two cents will be added to the price of gas.

Several years before adoption of the 15-year plan, Missouri residents approved Proposition A, which called for a variety of road projects and the funding to complete them.

Since the 15-year plan, the state authorized the Highway Commission to issue $250 million in bonds to pay for highway projects. Until recently, Rumery said, the Commission opted not to sell bonds. Now the Commission is in the process of seeking approval from the Legislature for $500 million in bonds.

If approved, Rumery said, the funds would allow for completion of works set out in Proposition A and put the 15-year plan back on schedule.

Rumery said the biggest obstacle has been the federal government. When the state adopted the 15-year plan and the six-cent gas tax, the federal government promised a certain amount of funds from the federal gas tax. But, he said, the state has received about 15 percent less each year.

As a result, Missouri is a "donor state," one which puts in more than they get back. Rumery said the government is hanging on to the money to help mask the federal deficit.

Environmental work has also slowed work.

"We live in a world of environmental necessities. Just doing the environmental land studies takes longer than it does to build the highways." 

Novel West Virginia programs aid Champion Communities

Multiple state agencies provide resources under the state's Community First Program
    Strategic plan focus:
  • Community First state program
  • State Small Cities Block Grants
  • Multi-agency state support
  • Self-sustaining mobile health care unit
  • Rehab program for substandard housing
  • HOME funds for affordable housing
Seven years ago, when he was running for Governor of West Virginia, Gascon Caperton proposed a Partnerships for Progress initiative aimed at building local leadership capacity. Once elected, he tried to implement the initiative, but it didn't work. He learned you couldn't impose such a structure from above.

Inspired by the racially-harmonious community development model of Tupelo, Mississippi, Governor Caperton several years later met with people in Huntington, Weirton and towns along the Highway 79 corridor, hoping to produce Tupelos in West Virginia. Not long thereafter, when USDA announced the EZ-EC program, the Governor encouraged fifteen communities, including those he'd visited, to apply as a way of initiating what he was by then calling his Community First Program of self-empowerment.

The Governor asked Rachel Tompkins, a West Virginia faculty member on loan as a gubernatorial advisor, to head the Community First program. The State Development Office and Rural Development Council consulted with communities as they prepared their plans.

Those offices, plus a multi-agency team, continue to work with the twelve (eight rural, four urban)communities that USDA and HUD did not designate. For rural Champion Communities, the state has earmarked Small Cities Block Grant funds, which had previously been used for water and wastewater projects. Any Champion Community that writes a proposal, meeting state guidelines and pursuing objectives of their strategic plan, will receive $500,000 for each of the next two years.

One such Champion Community is Mountain Enterprise Community (MEC), an alliance between Webster County and the City of Richwood located twelve miles into an adjacent Appalachian county.

"Both are worked-out mining areas with high unemployment and a high elderly population," explains John Reed, owner of Dodd Reed Funeral Home and co-chair of MEC. "We don't have a big tax base. Everything is an uphill struggle. It took us twenty years to get enough money for a city pool."

"Rural communities in West Virginia are dying on the vine," says Reed, "but the Governor is pretty well tuned to helping out. We realized that, if the area was to survive, we had to pull communities together for common goals."

While banding together may be a prerequisite for survival, Reed didn't find it easy.

Health care & housing

"We had a lot in common demographically and geographically and wanted to save on administrative costs by combining efforts." Still, Reed adds, "the primary barriers we faced were geographic, line-of-drift (where people travel and shop)and political factions."

Once the state funds their application, Mountain Enterprise Community will allocate about $300,000 toward health care and $200,000 to rehabilitate forty substandard units of housing a year.

Reed describes the health care initiative as hiring a case manager and buying a motor home with a built-in clinic and basic diagnostic equipment. A paramedic or nurse practitioner will staff the clinic. It'll also have a case manager on-board.

"The case manager will network existing agencies to elderly people, and the mobile unit will bring additional services directly to local communities," Reed says. "What we're particularly proud of is that, by our projections, in year three, we'll be self-sustaining through medicare/medicaid reimbursements just like any clinic. Private pay will be on a sliding scale."

The mobile clinic will be affiliated with Webster County Memorial and Richwood Area Community hospitals.

Tompkins describes MEC as having "a whole lot of enthusiasm. It's an area of hollows and hamlets where transportation is difficult, especially for the elderly, who have problems with diseases like diabetes that are entirely manageable. The mobile clinic is a way to make health and other social services accessible. Their health care proposal collaborates with existing health resources in the area and builds off what they have."

The Community First program, Tompkins believes, represents a permanent redirection of small cities block grant funds to communities that plan. Preference for state HOME funds that build local capacity to produce affordable housing also goes to Champion Communities. For some urban Champion Communities, the state brokered meetings with Job Training Partnership staff; the Champion Communities wrote such good proposals that all were funded.

Need to strengthen leadership

For some of the Champion Communities, Tompkins sees a need to go back in, strengthen leadership and develop organizations.

"Things are happening where communities have local capacity -- networks of people who have been talking to each other and working on development issues for awhile," she explains. "Things are not working well in places dominated by some elite or political organization that doesn't have an inclusive strategy of getting things done." Mountain Enterprise Community . . . is located in a census tract of 556 square miles with a population of 10,729 people, of whom 99.8% are white. Average annual per-capita income is $6,793. 

"Ozark Ecotours": New hope for Arkansas Champion Community

    Strategic plan focus:
  • Ozark Ecotours established
  • EDA marketing study grant
  • Newton County Housing Council
  • HUD $556,000 housing grant
  • EMS unit launched
  • Sawdust compost facility planned
In one of Arkansas' poorest areas, Newton County's 8,000 residents resisted the lure of traditional tourism development. They had only to look 60 miles to the north to Branson, Mo., the new home of American country music, where the daily traffic count is 25,000 cars on the main street of a town with only about 3,000 permanent residents.

Instead, the Newton County Resource Council (NCRC) looked for inpiration farther away, to the international travel scene, and developed its Ozark Ecotours.

"These are small-scale, sustainable projects that benefit local people," said Nancy Haller oecotour3.jpg - 14.8 Kf the NCRC. "It's not like a Holiday Inn coming in here" and sending the profits out of the county. ecotour2.jpg - 9.0 K

Newton County residents organize the tours, with the help of training sessions sponsored by NCRC. "These are unemployed people who have hunted these areas, lived here all their lives. They take tourists to caves and bluffs, maybe even to their own kitchen tables," she says.

Some of the tour guides are well educated; some are not. Some focus on photography or birding, genealogy or biology; other guides spin tall tales and tell of days gone past.

The NCRC markets the tours, carries liability insurance, provides the van, gets permits to public land and establishes a curriculum for all tour guides.

The group got a $22,500 Economic Development Administration grant to work with the University of Arkansas on marketing strategies.

The NCRC was the lead agency in Newton County's EZ/EC application planning process. Haller credits the effort with changing the community. ecotour1.jpg - 10.4 K

"We realized we had a lot going on. It gave us common goals, a shot of adrenalin. We got the whole community to buy into the EcoTourism idea."

The NCRC, originally established by then-Gov. Bill Clinton to handle gaps in the delivery of human services, changed its charter three years ago to meet the needs of economic development in the county. For the EZ/EC process, it held community meetings to spread the word about the project.

Housing programs

Of course, a comprehensive plan such as that called for by the EZ/EC process goes further than just tourism. Since the Champion Community designation, a self-help housing program has been approved. The Newton County Housing Council was begun by the NCRC. It will build 21 homes for low-income people with low-interest loans through Farmers Home Administration. The owners will provide sweat equity and will have to pay only for material costs, about one-half of what it would normally cost to build a house.

The Housing Council has also received a $556,500 grant from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, HUD's Supportive Housing Program, for transitional housing for homeless families. The program will house the families in rental houses, provide job training and schooling.

A third goal has been met in Newton County since the Champion Community designation. Local funds were raised to build a garage to house an Emergency Medical Services unit from North Arkansas Medical Center of Harrison, 20 miles from Jasper, 40 miles from many of the people of Newton County.

Well on its way to realizing many of the goals it set out in its EZ/EC application, Newton County still faces some barriers to its dreams. While the income from some 22 commercial sawmills operating in the county contributes to the local economy, the sawmills also create groundwater and air pollution problems.

"We need to get some help on our sawdust pollution problem," Haller said. "The state level folks just wouldn't take us seriously. They don't know all of the things we're doing up here. We don't get as much respect when we go to Little Rock as other counties because we don't have as many people."

Sawdust composting facility

Even when the Newton Countians go to Little Rock to pound the pavement, there are hurdles to jump.

"We wanted to build a composting facility for the sawdust," Haller says. "We went to the Environmental Protection Agency, the Arkansas Natural Resources Division, Farmers Home, AIDC. There are so many agencies which provide business assistance, you don't know which one to go to. It would be a big help if we had a central clearinghouse for such information."

Newton County, AR . . . is located in a census tract of 823 square miles and 7,666 people, of whom 99% are white. Average annual per-capita income is $7,114.

PATHWAYS finds work for jobless by creating new businesses

pathway1.jpg - 13.6 K
    Strategic plan focus:
  • Operates four businesses
  • Helps residents launch businesses
  • Project Success welfare-to-work
  • Workforce training
  • Publishing 2 newsletters
In 1992, the Dermott, Arkansas City Council formed the PATHWAYS Community Development Commission to help people own and operate businesses. The organization serves part of four southeastern Arkansas counties where the Mississippi Delta joins the coastal plains.

The number one problem facing the area, says PATHWAYS Project Director Hurley Jones, is jobs.

"One statistic is compelling," he says. "For a ten-year period, the rest of Arkansas outperformed this region in job creation by a ratio of 70 to 1. For every 70 jobs created elsewhere, we created only 1 here."

Additionally, women head one-third of local households and early 70% of those households live below the poverty level.

Transitioning from agriculture

"There's a high degree of development in textiles and timber in the coastal plains area, but in the Delta counties where farming was the main sector, as farms mechanized, the loss of jobs decimated the community fabric. Communities like Eudora, Wilmott, Portland and Dermott are trying to get a foothold to avoid falling off into the Mississippi River."

"Our inability to transition away from an agricultural base goes deep into cultural and social conditions," Jones explains. Bank owners tended to be conservative landowners who couldn't look beyond agriculture and risk money on new industries. "If the people who control a region's wealth are in a holding pattern, you get pockets of poverty," he says.

Mindsets tied to a different era are a limiting factor to development. New leadership and outside help, Jones believes, must jumpstart the transition process. But Jones also fingers Arkansas' constitutionally mandated limit on interest rates as a problem. "Risk and reward go hand-in-hand," he notes.

Funded operationally for three years by the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation, the Arkansas Department of Health and the Foundation for the Mid South in Jackson, Mississippi to the tune of $100,000 a year, PATHWAYS relies heavily on volunteer labor, including five VISTA volunteers and a volunteer from the Delta Service Corporation.

PATHWAYS has created an impressive program in workforce training, business development and personal empowerment. It's a model, Hurley thinks, for other similar counties.

"A main part of our program has to do with welfare reform. We operate four businesses -- a produce farming operation and three resale and consignment malls with spaces for people to incubate businesses." One new business has already hatched.

"The individuals who staff the stores are part of the Arkansas Department of Human Service's Project Success that was set up to transition people off welfare. They have to develop a business idea and business plan and operate a business in order to graduate."

So far PATHWAYS has graduated 67 people. A recent study showed that 44% of graduates had moved on to permanent jobs or school. The latest graduating class of eight decided to form a borrowing group whose members will qualify for microloans through the Good Faith Fund based in Pine Bluff, Arkansas.

Microloans provided

Good Faith works to alleviate poverty in eight southeastern and eastern counties of Arkansas through the direct delivery of capital and knowledge to low-income residents; they use a modified peer group lending program based on the model developed by the Grameen Bank of Bangladesh.

The business development component of the PATHWAYS model focuses on access to capital.

"Through cooperation with the Arkansas Enterprise Group, we persuaded state agencies to do a monthly circuit ride through the area," Jones says.

PATHWAYS sets up appointments between individuals who want to own a business or expand an existing one with representatives of the Arkansas Industrial Development Corporation, the Small Business Administration, Arkansas Capital Corporation, the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff and the Arkansas Small Business Development Center. This circuit technique has generated a quarter of a million dollars in new loans from the region for the Arkansas Enterprise Group.

In order to have more control over capital, PATHWAYS has applied for a half million dollars from the FMHA Rural Economic and Community Development program for a revolving loan fund.

"We have the support of banks in the area on this," adds Jones.

Two regional newsletters

PATHWAYS, the organization itself an entrepreneurial model for its clients, tries to fill gaps wherever they find them.

One such way is pulling the region together with two newsletters -- The Renaissance Voice, sponsored by and for local businesses, and The Progressional, which publicizes events.

"We publish the newsletters to create a sense of community," says Jones. "Regional cooperation is a key to success."

PATHWAYS Dermott, AR . . . is located in a census tract of 4,715 people, of whom 73.4% are black and 26.3% are white. Average annual per-capita income is $5,738.

Alabama Champion Community works to attract new industries

    Strategic plan focus:
  • Formed Chamber of Commerce
  • Auto plant spin-off industries planned
  • Lobbying to improve main highway
  • Working to create industrial park
The new Perry County Chamber of Commerce with 128 members is a direct product of the EZ/EC planning process.

The Chamber's budget is financed by cities and the county commission but, more extensively, by memberships, Alabama Power, Alagasco and Bell South. The Board of Directors of the Chamber (Champion Community) adopted the EZ/EC strategic plan as their own and recently hired a full-time executive director.

Judy Martin, assistant to the president for community relations at Judson College in Marion, has been the coordinating force behind the planning process, the development of the new Chamber and the hand-off of the plan from the Perry County Commission to the Chamber.

Describing the planning process, Martin says, "We had a two-day retreat that 90 people attended. It was the first time I've known blacks and whites to sit down at the same time and same place -- Siloam Baptist Church -- to talk about the needs of Perry County."

As an aside, Martin explains that racial tensions run deep. "This was the staging area for the civil rights movement. All the planning for the Selma march was done here. When the EZ/EC process came along, the community was ripe and ready," she said.

Not only are people learning to work together, but blacks and whites now gather socially at the Chamber's "After Hours."

"Personalities sometimes make things divisive," Martin says. "We're not going to get over this in a flash, but we're making progress."

Thirty-seven miles from Marion, at Vance, is a new Mercedes Benz plant, "the biggest coup in the last 200 years," Martin says.

The saying "stars fell on Alabama," Martin explains, means "Alabama got Mercedes, and Heather Whitestone became Miss America." Mercedes is considering a second sedan plant and Toyota, a pick-up plant in the area. The Chamber is hungry for spin-off industry and upgrading Highway 5 from two- to four-lane will improve chances of getting it, Martin says.

"We're inviting all Highway 5 counties to a summit, bringing in a congressman and the State Transportation Director," Martin says. "It's not in the state highway plan yet. Our county can't pull this off alone, but together we can. We've written Ten Good Reasons To Widen Highway 5."

One new industry

Already, a minority parts supplier, providing shipping crates to Mercedes and with 125 new jobs, has moved to Perry County from California.

"They've had a grand opening but aren't operating yet due to a glitch" in the financial incentive package.

Where to put Mercedes spin-off businesses may be a problem. Much of the strategic plan hinged on developing the 100,000 foot Vaiden Field airstrip, a holdover from the old Craig Air Force Base. The airport's 300 acres off Highway 5 is "the greatest asset our economically-deprived county has. It'll land a Concord."

But Martin and others were disappointed to discover that an airport authority had been created "somewhere back in history." Authority members don't want to go along with the strategic plan. "We haven't untangled this yet. It's the biggest disappointment. We could put a warehouse out there and do just-in-time delivery for Mercedes or any number of things."

"There's always a group that likes things the way they are. Money or lack of it is definitely a problem. Perry is one of the 100 poorest counties in the nation," she says.

Educational needs

The major barrier is education. An industry recently moved 29 executive slots to their plant at Marion, but only one executive lives in the county. Says Martin, "This county can't truly move forward until the education dilemma is resolved, but much of Alabama is in a similar situation."

As for their successes, the answer is simple. "It's due to hardworking, committed people," says Martin.

Perry County, AL . . . covers 719.5 square miles. Of the 12,759 residents, 64.4% are black and 35.3% are white. Average annual per-capita income is $6,879.

Minnesota mining town hits paydirt with tourism, Finnish culture

    Strategic plan focus:
  • Preserving Finnish heritage
  • Northern Lights Tourism Alliance
  • Mesabi Trail for hikers, bikers
  • Crafts consignment shop
  • Restore numerous finnish sites
  • Tourism attracts other business
  • Timber Hall community center
  • Publishing a town newsletter
Founded in 1905, the small town of Embarrass, Minnesota, has a long history of economic dependence on mining. But after one of the mines closed, so did the local school.

In the 1980s, the town set out on what probably seemed an innocent adventure to save its abandoned school. The school has since been torn down, but what happened as a result of the effort has set the town on a new course, one which draws on a rich ethnic heritage.

During the 1980s, the Babbitt-Embarrass Area Development Association formed the Project 70 committee to look into development ideas, such as reusing the old school. The committee obtained funds for reuse studies from the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Blandin Foundation and the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board.

Town Clerk Margaret Kinnunen said that when representatives from the National Trust came to Embarrass, they told the local people to forget about the school and work to save the numerous other historic structures. The town has a rich Finnish heritage and numerous old Finnish homesteads, complete with barns and saunas, which were usually the first buildings the Finns erected.

One of the townspeople brought back slides from a trip to Finland and town officials were so impressed with the Finnish method of fencing that Embarrass now has 2,500 feet of Finnish fencing lining the main part of town. The town was off and running on a project to draw on its Finnish heritage to help spur economic development.

The Blandin Foundation helped fund the development of a five-year community plan in the late 1980s, action which opened the gates to additional sources of funding. In 1987 the local organization, SISU, (Finnish for courage) was incorporated with non-profit status. SISU has since served as one of town's funding channels.

One of the first buildings to be donated to the project was an old log warehouse. The structure was moved to a corner piece of land donated by the state highway department and turned into a visitors' center. Inside is a replica of a smoke sauna, as the Finns would have used, complete with a Finnish "family" made from panty hose.

About 1990, the town commissioned the creation of replicas of Finnish "townspeople" which are displayed at various sites in town. These life-size models, carved by a chain saw, include a logger, farmer, miner and a woman with two children.

Purchase 112-acre site

With the aid of grant funds, the community was able to buy a 112-acre site next to the old school. The property included an old three-story boarding house, log sauna and other buildings. The boarding house has been converted into a consignment shop for local crafts and is manned by volunteers. One of the town's elderly residents bakes bread and sells it at the shop. The money she earns helps pay her health care. A rug weaver works on the top story, an area also set aside for craft classes.

Community Development Block Grants have been a big help, Kinnunen said, by providing funds for, among other things, tearing down the old school and for an historic structures report, information required by the State Historical Society before restoration could begin. The Society has since allocated a grant to refurbish the old sauna across from the boardinghouse.

The Blandin Foundation also provided a grant with which the town conducted a survey of its log buildings, as well as those in two neighboring townships, Pike and Waasa. A total of 165 log structures were documented. Seven sites have been placed on the National Register of Historic Places and two more are eligible.

One of the areas designated by the National Register an 80-acre farm with several buildings was donated to the town. With grants from the National Trust and Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board, the town was able to sponsor a ten-day workshop on barn restoration, conducted by an expert brought to town for the event.

One of the most outstanding community-wide efforts, Kinnunen said, was the construction of Timber Hall. This community center was built from 205 red and white pine trees. People in the community spent an entire summer preparing the logs. When it came time to pour the slab floor, volunteers with 67 wheelbarrows were on hand and completed the work in under four hours. Women in the community supplied the food. Volunteers from as far as Wisconsin came to help Embarrass build Timber Hall.

"It's an example of how the community has really come together to work," Kinnunen said.

The town is also working on its section of the 175-mile long Mesabi Trail which begins at Grand Rapids, Michigan, and cuts through Embarrass along the Embarrass River. The multi-purpose trail can be used by hikers, and bike and horse riders.

Adjacent to the trail in Embarrass is one of the areas eligible for the National Register. As a result, the town was able to secure a $77,750 grant to purchase the site, which includes 16 buildings, and restore it, thus enabling trail users to enjoy historic sites along the path.

The community is also developing a bog walk, wooden walkway extending into the swamp, thus providing access deeper into the swamp than would ordinarily be possible.

New businesses crop up

All of this has had an economic impact on the small town. A new bed-and-breakfast recently opened - The Finnish Heritage Homestead and interest has been expressed in the establishment of a wilderness ranch resort. And the town's only restaurant is doubling in size in order to accommodate visitors.

The community has developed a regional effort of heritage-based tourism. The Northern Lights Tourism Alliance encompasses an area the size of Massachusetts and Connecticut combined, as well as people of a variety of nationalities, including Swedish, Norwegian and Czechoslovakian.

The Flying Finn newsletter, established in the 1980s to keep the community informed about development projects, has now published over 100 editions.

From a town that once depended exclusively on mining, Embarrass now is equally supported by mining and tourism.

Embarass, MN . . . has a population of 2,864 people, of whom 99% are white. Average annual per-capita income is $10,626.

Historic Raton, NM, preserves heritage, courts new industry

    Strategic plan focus:
  • Expand tourism & industry
  • Economic development council
  • Created 72-acre industrial park
  • Attracting statewide conventions
  • Creating 200-250 new jobs
Raton, New Mexico, lies on the edge of the Rocky Mountains, partly on flat plains and partly on mesa. The town was established in 1879 when the Santa Fe Trail plowed through Raton Pass.

Raton is home to about 8,000 of Colfax County's 21,000 people, and cows outnumber people by a ratio of ten to one. Coal mining has played an important part in the area's economics, and about 160 of Raton's citizens are miners.

Nearby Capulan Volcano National Monument offers a first-hand look into a volcano cone, while mountain lakes and ski resorts beckon fishermen, hikers, horseback riders and skiers. Raton also sits on Interstate 25. Tourism which accounts for about 50 percent of the town's receipts has had an important role in Raton's economic well-being for some time, but city leaders have also been working to broaden the town's industrial base.

"Economic development has not blossomed until the last three years," said Woody Mitchell, director of the Raton Chamber and Economic Development Council.

The Council was established in 1986 as a way of providing a fresh start to the city's economic development, a reorganizing of the town's efforts.The emphasis has been on team work, long-range planning and leadership development.

"The team efforts have really enhanced our efforts here," Mitchell said. The key to this is broad community support. To Mitchell, creating this kind of relationship within the community is what economic development is all about. Since its inception, the Council budget has tripled to over $200,000 and membership has grown to about 150.

During this time, a half dozen industries have come to Raton and created 200-250 jobs. Mitchell recently announced that an embroidery company from Dallas will be setting up shop in Raton. About 10 jobs are expected to be created at first, and between 15 and 20 more in the future.

Three years ago, the Chamber and the city agreed to build a 72-acre industrial park at the local airport.

A 10,000-square-foot building is expected to be built soon and perhaps house a supplier of electric power. Mitchell said financial arrangements are still being finalized. Final plans are also in the works for three other business prospects.

The Council has also reached agreements for three statewide conventions, bringing over 700 people to the community.

Council's three teams

In the effort to draw prospective business and industrial firms to the area, Mitchell reorganized the Council's economic development committee into three teams, each with four or five members with expertise in sales, finances and technical matters. Mitchell serves on each team as staff advisor.

A computer presentation has been created to send to interested prospects. The teams also work with existing businesses on promotion and expansion.

Other committees focus on tourism, transportation, government affairs and small business development.

Matching state funds

Financial help has been obtained through matching funds from the New Mexico Economic Development Department and the state Tourism Department, both of which "are very active and supportive" of Raton's work, Mitchell said.

Mitchell stressed the importance of getting a broad, representative group of people in the community involved in economic development efforts. These people will, in turn, help others they know become active.

Mitchell stressed the importance of getting a broad, representative group of people in the community involved in economic development efforts. These people will, in turn, help others they know become active. Important aspects of the Council's job is to help these people succeed, by offering needed tools, information, training and support.

But there have been problems, Mitchell said, including Environmental Protection Agency regulations, a lack of tax incentives offered by some states and a lack of financing, all of which hurt start-up efforts by marginal-type businesses and industries.

Raton, NM . . . has a population of 7,372 people, of whom 81% are white and 18.6% are other races. Average annual per-capita income is $9,664. 

Salem, MO, folks upgrade infrastructure, health care, self-image

    Strategic plan focus:
  • National Rural Health Association designee
  • Administered "community attitude" survey
  • Drilled new town water well
  • Building 126-acre industrial park
  • Acquiring natural gas/new electrical service
  • Working to upgrade major highway
  • Team efforts with Kraft Foods
  • Beautification committee to restore image
"We promised our people we would carry through with or without EZ/EC money," says Leonard Johnson, economic development director of Salem, Missouri, a Champion Community.

In 1994 citizens formed the Salem Area Community Betterment Association (SACBA), whose elected Board served as steering committee. SACBA is a member organization composed of clubs and organizations in the Salem area; it's mission is "guiding focused direction" for all projects within the Salem area. salem-mo.jpg - 13.6 K

Independent of local government, SACBA is affiliated with the Missouri Department of Economic Development. To generate its strategic plan, SACBA developed a community attitude survey with 193 pieces of information.

Taking community survey

"350 volunteers went door-to-door throughout the county," says Johnson. "They dropped the survey off on a Monday and picked it up on Thursday. We got back 4000 out of 5,900 households."

Kraft Foodservice Company donated a bank of computers, and volunteers spent 400 hours entering survey results so that information could be cross referenced. The Salem News published a special edition reporting survey results.

After learning that they weren't designated as an EZ-EC community, SACBA set up a day-long workshop attended by 115 people. They condensed the ten-year EZ/EC plan and the results from the community survey into a five-year priorities plan.

The number one priority, Johnson says, is infrastructure.

"In rural towns it's very difficult for industrial development to take place, if you don't have infrastructure in place. Our's had deteriorated over time. We had to update our infrastructure to bring it up to par to compete with other towns."

With more than one-third of the population in poverty, you might think that the City of Salem would find it difficult to finance infrastructure improvements. Kraft is Salem's ace in the hole. Because Kraft does a large amount of retail sales -- far more than the local Wal-Mart -- Salem will take in about $750,000 in sales tax revenue this year.

New infrastructure

Out of general revenues, the city spent $200,000 on a new water well and $370,000 to bring electric service up to date. Even so, Johnson points out, "we're over-spending by about one million a year, drawing down the reserve to invest in the future."

Natural gas is coming. The City contracted different companies for proposals. The measure was put to citizens for a vote. Soon Utilicorp of St. Louis will bring natural gas service to the area.

Southwestern Bell Telephone installed a tower for cellular phone service. "We were scheduled for fiber optics in 2005 or 2006, but Southwestern Bell moved it up because the community showed interest."

"We're a one-town county," Johnson continues, and that town, Salem, is thirty miles off the interstate. The only decent road around is Highway 72, "a typical early road with winds, crooks and hills." Kraft, which employs 600 people, and other local industry "run a huge number of trucks."

Parties interested in upgrading Highway 72 formed an organization to work with and lobby the state. Nearby communities supported the effort and now Highway 72 is the "top priority road."

The City of Salem recently bought 126 acres for an industrial park and put in water, sewer and lighting. "We have a tremendous number of prospects," Johnson comments. Already, they've snagged a perfume manufacturer out of California that will start with 15 new jobs.

The community attitude survey indicated that people had a problem with their own image, a "careless way of living," says June Vickery, associate publisher of the Salem News. The Beautification Committee, a standing committee of SACBA is coordinating clubs and organizations to get work done using an Adopt-A-Project approach.

For example, the city had stopped maintaining the fountain in Craig Plaza, at one corner of the county's historic, second French empire style courthouse, because of a small problem with soap suds.

The beautification committee persuaded the Tri-C Women's Club to maintain the plaza. Tri-C has weeded and painted benches; the fountain now runs again. Spring Creek 4-H Club, Salem Girl Scouts, Dent County Retired Teachers Association and Steps to Excellence are among the organizations tackling clean-up and beautification projects.

Salem is making progress in still another area -- health and social services. Brian Adcock, child and family development specialist with the University of Missouri Extension Service in Dent County, says, "in promoting wellness, social services and health, it makes a community look better. Industry will say, `this is a motivated community.'"

Healthy Community 2000 is a subcommittee of SACBA. Of the 50 Champion Communities with a health care component to their plan, the National Rural Health Association chose 17, including Salem, to receive $7,000 grants. Salem has hired a part-time person for eight months as a community encourager, who rallies the community around service issues.

Salem, MO . . . has 5,308 people, of whom 98.9% are white. Average annual per-capita income is $8,845. 

"Champion" status gives experienced LA group new impetus

    Strategic plan focus:
  • Self-Help Housing Committees
  • Federation of Self-Help Associations
  • Construction skills training programs
  • Sustainable agriculture for farmers
  • Support/lobbying for area commercial fishermen
The Southern Mutual Help Association, Inc., in St. Mary Parish, Louisiana, has been helping poor people in Louisiana for 25 years, ever since the War on Poverty during the Lyndon B. Johnson administration. For its 25th anniversary, instead of having a dinner to celebrate, said executive director Lorna Bourg, "we started all over again." smha1.jpg - 12 K>

The reason for the choice was the EZ/EC application process.

"Never before had the government set up a program that had to be done in cooperation with the community," Bourg said. "This is one of the more hopeful signs from government."

Bourg said that years ago SMHA relinquished the federal funding it had been granted.

"People thought we were crazy," she said. "But we were tired of trying to make `canned national funds' work. We could spend much more of each locally generated dollar on poverty."

The process called for in the EC process was what SMHA has been doing all along.

"With EC, we started to work with government again," bourg said. And for its efforts, the SMHA was designated a Champion Community. The technical assistance will allow SMHA to work on poverty and other problems created by the displacement of workers, use of pesticides and monoculture farming. SMHA's successful strategies echoed its sentiments of cooperation with the government.

"We began working with the mainstream sugar cane farmers, the same ones that were impacted by our class-action years ago," Bourg said. They put everyone -- displaced workers, sugarcane farmers and environmentalists -- in one neutral room at one of the local banks, "and we started a dialogue." smha2.jpg - 15.2 K

The SMHA brought in Helen Vinton, co-founder of the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (SAWG) and the Acadian SAWG to design new models. She talked about things like cover cropping, moving red ant hills to eradicate pests, diversifying crops and ending burning in the cane fields.

"The farmers began to see that following the advice of the landgrant universities and consultants was keeping them on the treadmill and they would eventually go broke," Bourg said. "The farmers bought into our program. One even created a slide presentation and took it to talk to other farmers."

Helping farmers

Bourg said the question with farmers is no longer about production, but sustainability.

"They want to be known as people who did good for their community," Bourg said.

Southern Mutual Housing Association, as the name implies, also has considerable experience with helping low-income people obtain housing. What started with training individual families to contribute "sweat equity" toward their homes has now developed into a series of communities establishing their own organizations.

"We only go into communities that invite us," Bourg said. "We go in with two goals: self-development and partnerships." After receiving construction skills training themselves, the members of each Self-Help Housing Committee must pledge to help other communities. Now there are three Self-Help Committees and they have formed a Federation of Self-Help Associations.

Bourg said part of the reason SMHA has succeeded through the years is: "We listen to complaints." For instance, the SMHA might help someone work on their house and six months later, the owner comes back and says there are problems with it.

"An organization can't just fix up a house and say, `Now keep it up.' People who complain about how `they' never keep up `their' houses don't understand that often, the owners don't have the tools, they don't have the ladder to get up there and fix that high part on the house that's needing paint," Bourg comments.

So SMHA saw that it needs to provide more training to prospective homeowners. smha3.jpg - 16.5 K

"They need to know money management, how to keep the house up, what tools are needed, how to create a momentum in the community for everyone to keep their houses up. Twice a year, there could be a weekend where everyone repairs houses," she comments.

This ability to be flexible, to see how the proposals they have made might need to be changed, is part of SMHA's success. For instance, said Bourg, SMHA had proposed in its strategic plan an all-fisheries cooperative.

"But later, we attended a training session in Maine and were warned about the Gulf Coast Conservation Association which wants to supplant native fishers," she said. Now, in Louisiana, there are 45 bills or amendments in the state legislature to outlaw all gill nets, to allow trout fishing only by hook and only at certain hours, "when they really aren't catchable by native fishers," Bourg said.

"The problem we saw then was that the fishers weren't organized and there was no market for their fish," she says. "Now they still need an organized effort; it's just that they have to meet this threat before we can worry about markets or cooperatives."

SMHA has a busy next 25 years the Champion Community designation will provide the technical help for many of the organization's programs. And SMHA will continue to take note of its successes. In fact, reflecting on their own successes is a vitalpart of continuing such an effort for over a quarter century.

SMHA St. Mary Parish, LA . . . is located in a census tract of 228 square miles with 6,834 people, of whom 51% are black, 43% are white and 6% are of other races. Average annual per-capita income is $6,659. 

Iowa County's hospital-that's-not-just-a-hospital:

Other services thrive under the same roof
    Strategic plan focus:
  • Job service center
  • Town day care
  • Money-making bakery
  • Computer training service for residents
  • State "nontraditional programs" grants
  • Health care via "fiber optics"
When is a hospital not just a hospital? Residents in Van Buren County, Iowa, have an exciting answer to that.

This small, largely agricultural county in southeast Iowa has a local hospital that is a daycare center and also houses computer training and job linkage programs within the community.

Just down the road, back in town, is a bakery that was started in the hospital kitchen and has since spun off to be a main street business. Coming soon is a full-fledged occupational health center for local businesses and farmers.

This hospital-that's-not-just-a-hospital is the product of Van Buren County residents' asking themselves: "What would make this a healthier, more vital community and what is the hospital's role in making it that way?" Their definition of health was quite broad, and purposefully so.

"Diversification was necessary for this hospital," says Lisa Schnedler, the hospital administrator who, with her board of directors and staff, started the extensive community planning process in May 1990. Rather than go head-to-head with other rural health care facilities by buying all the latest and very expensive medical technologies and competing for patients, the hospital committed itself to providing quality medical care and contributing to community health in more diverse and creative ways.

Van Buren County is in a remote rural area and many of its people are poor. Plagued with the second lowest per-capita income in the state, high teen pregnancy and unemployment rates, needs for the elderly and no job service, Van Buren County nevertheless has its assets, Schnedler said.

"The county is beautiful," she said. "It looks like New England, with rolling hills. We have the largest state park in Iowa, an artists' colony and the Amish community." Van Buren's beauty attracts people for its solitude and beauty.

"And, most important to the hospital, we have a progressive county hospital board of directors," Schnedler adds.

The hospital board and staff held several town hall meetings to develop the plan. As in any community, "there are some people who will just fight change," Schnedler said. "People were afraid the child care center would raise hospital rates, that it would take mothers out of the home. They were afraid the job service would raise rates and reward lazy people."

Those resistant to the changes were vocal, leading the County Board of Supervisors to believe there was more opposition to the plans than there actually was, Schnedler said.

Successful bakery, day care

So how did she get the changes made? "Success breeds success," Schnedler said. "Everyone thought the child care facility would fail, as a previous one had. We now serve 85 families. They said a bakery won't work in a community our size; now the bakery employs disabled, older workers and delivers bread to five counties."

Again, she credits her board of directors. "They haven't been afraid to take risks. If I had a gut feeling about some project, but not every single bit of information, the board trusted me. If we lost $5,000, their attitude was `Life goes on.'"

One of the many successes the hospital can be proud of is its job service. "Anyone in the county who wants to get computer training can get it here," Schnedler said. "Free."

There are tutorials at the job service center, located on site at the hospital, or when there are enough people for a class, the hospital brings in instructors from the community college 50 miles away. "The funding for this project has evolved," Schnedler said.

The hospital got a three-year grant from the state Department of Economic Development to develop the job service center and the bakery. The job service center had been begun with developmentally delayed citizens, so later a Vocational Rehabilitation grant was available.

"The state was saving money with our program because it didn't have to place the disabled in workshops, so we've since received a wide variety of funds, primarily for disabled workers. This allows us to serve everyone."

Schnedler said the state Department of Economic Development has been the hospital's best partner. "We ask for it, they'll help," she said. Many local foundations set up to help children have helped in the funding of hospital projects, as well as local individuals and banks. About 6.5 percent, or about $250,000, goes to the "nontraditional programs," Schnedler said.

In addition to the grants received, there is income from the child care center for those who can afford to pay and from the bakery.

While Van Buren County Hospital never abandoned its traditional medical care provider's role, Schnedler sees herself returning to more traditional pursuits soon.

"The progress of the nontraditional programs is solid," she said. One of her staff, for instance, is overseeing the establishment of the occupational health and safety department, which with its affiliate, the University of Iowa, will serve people in 10 counties.

Health care via fiber optics

One more project that Schnedler has under her belt is in response to the county's geographic isolation.

"There isn't really a central community within the county," she said. "The county seat has 1,000 population and then it drops to 800 and 500. And the interstate highway is nowhere near here."

So Schnedler, through a joint grant with the hospital's partner, the University of Iowa, wants to bring health care services in via fiber optics. The interactive audio/video conference will allow the patient and his Van Buren County doctor to speak almost face-to-face with the specialist from Iowa City, 90 miles away, without ever leaving Keosauqua.

Van Buren Hospital's board often takes tours of other successful programs and Schnedler says anyone is welcome to tour theirs.

Van Buren County Hospital . . . serves 7,676 people in an area of 485.3 square miles. 99.5% of the population are white, with an average annualper-capita income of $9,348. 

With EC backing, SC community cultivating homegrown jobs

    Strategic plan focus:
  • Convert EC funds to revolving loan fund
  • Establish water/sewer authority
  • Planning a new state park
  • Enact tourism ideas
  • Develop entrepreneur plan for residents
"Our's was a people's plan," emphasized Victor Rowell, Chairman of the designated Williamsburg, South Carolina, Enterprise Community.

"Our success came because we had grassroots people involved," Rowell said. "Some had never sat on a committee before. Some had a third grade education, but they worked hard. We mixed experienced people with inexperienced. If a committee was having problems, we invited in resource people to help them along and get back on track. We met two to three times a week for several hours. The government didn't get involved, and politicians didn't try to take over."

Williamsburg Enterprise Community (WEC) spans seven census tracts, covering lower Florence County and Williamsburg County. To establish the original steering committee, Rowell and other organizers set up community meetings in each tract and asked attenders to elect four representatives to the steering committee.

Each tract has a chair, who continues to hold local meetings from time to time to maintain input and report back on progress. "We do everything we can to keep that grassroots person involved, so we're doing their thing, not our thing," Rowell said.

WEC is transitioning to a fourteen member board of directors structured the same way.

"It's a rural community of 36,000, covering 934 square miles and is farm oriented," explains Rowell.

Baxter Laboratories that employed 800 is in the last phase of closing. The Oxford sewing plant with its 300 jobs already closed. "Unemployment is riding above 10% now," Rowell notes.

The main objective of WEC, says Rowell, is to develop jobs and most of those, he believes, will have to be cultivated from within, although Rowell certainly wouldn't mind a new plant moving in. While the towns of Kingstree and Hemingway have water and sewer, rural areas don't. The plan is to establish a water/sewer authority.

"You need both water and sewer for rural development and housing development," Rowell says. "We have mostly textiles here and need to diversify. We want more service jobs."

Tourism, Rowell notes, is a great opportunity, since both the Black and Santee Rivers traverse the area. Additionally, they're only an hour from beach areas and Charleston.

Developing a state park is a key strategy. Members of the WEC steering committee have met with the State Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism which is interested in the idea. WEC is also working directly with people who want to start businesses like canoe outfitting on the Black River.

Revolving loan fund

The thrust of efforts to create jobs will be a revolving loan fund and entrepreneurship program. If all goes well, WEC will alchemize $1 million in EC funds into a $7 million revolving loan fund for business development; it will generate enough interest income to make WEC largely self-sustaining four years from now.

WEC has applied for another $1 million USDA Rural Business Enterprise Grant. They're also looking closely at the FMHA Intermediary Relending Program, which will loan up to $5 million over three years at 1%.

Providing education and training go hand-in-hand with making capital more accessible. WEC is working with the local technical education center and a Small Business Development Center representative, who now visits the area two to three times a month, to create an entrepreneurship program. (Just recently, they held a teleconference to learn what other areas are doing in economic development.) The idea will be to provide technical assistance, financial advice, help individuals write business plans and do market analyses to make sure a market is really there or that a new business entry won't cause two neighboring businesses to shut down.

The steering committee is also eyeing some vacant industrial buildings they'd like to renovate and convert into incubator buildings. Maybe, Rowell thinks, they could incubate ag-related businesses like packing plants that would be value-added.

While Rowell insists WEC hasn't encountered any major barriers to their efforts, racial issues have cropped up.

Settling racial differences

"When we first began, we had an area of the county called Hemingway, which is the best off economically," Rowell says. "They wanted to withdraw from Williamsburg County and go into Florence County because the schools were better, they said. Blacks felt it was racial. The courts ruled against it. We've had racial problems on the Board but sat down and discussed them. Most people felt we had to get together and get additional jobs in here. The process brought the races together in the common goal of community development."

Williamsburg EC . . . is located in a census tract of 699.1 square miles with 28,920 people, of whom 76.4% are black and 23.5% are white. Average annual per-capita income is $6,483. 

Willapa Bay: People, ecology of beautiful watershed area at risk

Groups & funders join hands in southwest Washington
    Strategic plan focus:
  • Nonprofit community leadership group
  • Willapa River Watershed Restoration
  • Cooperation from South Shore Bank
  • Revolving loan fund
  • Entrepreneur program
  • Timber, seafood, farming products
  • Multi-media CD-ROM about the bay area
  • Host leadership conference
One of the most innovative, sophisticated and complicated rural development programs is underway in the 680,000-acre Willapa Bay watershed in southernmost Washington State.

The setting is luscious: rainforests of spruce, cedar and hemlock; tidal flats and estuaries; rich marshlands. The cast, in numbers and personalities, would be a handful for any director.

And who exactly is the director? The tri-partnership of Willapa Alliance, the Nature Conservancy and Ecotrust? ShoreTrust bank? Or the complex and indominitable forces interweaving nature and human settlement?

Founded by Spencer Beebe in 1991, Ecotrust, too, is a weaver of grand designs.

Vice-President Arthur Dye says, "We came to the conclusion that the environmental movement was headed in the wrong direction. We needed to build community capacity rather than regulations or legislation."

Quoted in a Ford Foundation report, Beebe said he wanted "to create self-interest in conservation among the people who live with and depend upon the resources." As demonstration projects, Ecotrust selected four watersheds, including Willapa Bay, within the coastal rainforest ecosystem of the northwest U.S.

Willapa Bay needed help. According to Dye, a quarter of the 20,000 population is on welfare; moreover, the area is home to the Shoalwater Bay Indian Reservation, one of the poorest reservations in the West. The Willapa Indicators Report states that, in the past fifteen years Pacific County's unemployment rate has climbed to more than 4% above the state rate; it is nearly double the rate in Oregon.

Ecotrust thought Willapa might be easier to work with than other communities in need, says Dye, "because of its economic diversification, quality of leadership and the productivity of the resource base."

Willapa's economic base includes commercial fishing and oyster farming, timber harvesting, cranberry and other agricultural crops, tourism and retirement. "The problem," adds Dye, "is that they ship everything out as commodities. There is no value-added manufacturing in the community, and that's a tremendous opportunity."

The first step was sending a consultant to Willapa for a year to identify problems and discern whether the community was interested in a partnership approach to problem solving. Once Willapa responded affirmatively, the work, including fund raising, began in ernest.

The Northwest Area Foundation gave $600,000 to the Willapa Project. The Nature Conservancy signed on as a major partner. Dye estimates that, thus far, $1.5 to $2.0 million has been invested in the Willapa Bay project.

Capacity-building began by recruiting locals interested in conservation-based development. These carefully selected individuals, representing a cross section of the community, became the Willapa Alliance, whose 17-member board of directors is entirely composed of locals except for two representatives of the forest industry and two representatives of environmental interests.

Willapa Alliance, emphasizes Dye, is a nonprofit community leadership group, not a membership organization or government entity; it's job is "to mobilize leadership in the private sector."

With a budget of roughly $175,000 from foundations, government grants and consulting income, Willapa Alliance has a staff of four professionals based in South Bend, Washington. According to their FY94-95 annual report, "The mission of the Willapa Alliance is to enhance the diversity, productivity, and health of Willapa's unique environment, to promote sustainable economic development, and to expand the choices available to the people who live here."

Now that Willapa Alliance is fully on-line as an independent organization, the Nature Conservancy and Ecotrust have pulled back into support roles.

Strategic planning

The tri-partnership approached strategic planning differently than do many groups that initiate community planning efforts. First, they hired consultants to prepare scoping reports that provided a historical analysis of the economy in general and salmon fishing and forest industries in particular.

That formed the scientific basis of a four-point strategy:
1) finding better ways to manage natural resources;
2) conservation-based economic development that contributes to the health of the environment;
3) science and understanding as the basis of decision making; and
4) policy reform.

Markham says that one of his immediate priorities is "getting all players to buy into the strategic plan over the next year." That's the job of the Alliance's new Communication and Education Coordinator, who will develop and administer membership and volunteer programs, publish a newsletter and meet one-on-one with community leaders to translate the Willapa Indicators Report -- a biannual publication that reports key indicators of community health into community action and policy.

An upcoming Willapa Leadership Conference-Roundtable will bring six leaders from ten sectors together to address what the indicators say about the fundamental underlying issues of the economy, what the community can do about the issues collectively and, Markham hopes, "form a task force to take greater community leadership of the indicators process."

Conventional thinking is that community planning processes should bring the stakeholders and general public into the planning process from the onset. While Willapa's education and outreach component of their annual plan is extensive, it has largely been about getting stakeholders to buy into products and ideas produced by consultants or the tri-partnership.

For Ecotrust's next project, Dye will proceed in another direction. At Willapa Bay, he says, "We began with a comprehensive plan on the table. That took two years and placed a heavy toll on people. We're now moving across the river to a watershed in Astoria. We'll start work with existing initiatives and hope that a comprehensive vision will emerge."

Short vs. long term solutions

Both Dye and Markham agree that short-term vision hinders their long-term strategy. Dye says, "Everything is geared toward the short-term whether it's state or federal government. All the energy in local government goes to getting money for the community like compensation for salmon fishermen. But short-term solutions don't get to the basic problem of why fish have declined. We're trying to build a longer-term effort -- 10 to 20 years - that will change the way government people look at these issues."

Markham agrees that long-term strategies are "tough because the culture has short-term expectations and funders do too. What it takes is a strong strategic plan, annual plans and good staff. You need enough short-term actions to keep people's interest, but you also have to have the courage to stick to the long-term plan."

Even while building its own staff and organization, the Willapa Alliance has forged ahead with interest-catching initiatives. These include: The Understanding Willapa multi-media CD-ROM invites the user to explore Willapa through video, images, sound, art, text, GIS maps and graphs; it links science and education programs.

Watershed restoration program

Funded with a $423,000 grant, The Willapa River Watershed Restoration Partnership Program is a salmon habitat restoration project conducted in partnership with Weyerhauser, Pacific Conservation District, local farmers, Willapa Bay Water Resources Coordinating Council and the Washington State Department of Natural Resources. Spartina is an invasive aquatic weed, the control of which poses serious environmental consequences. The Spartina Coordinating Action Group led an education and lobbying effort that resulted in a new permitting process, regulating chemical and nonchemical control activities.

The Willapa Indicator's Report uses a set of indicators or statistics to measure the health of the environment, economy and community. Indicators clarify choices. Changes in indicators over time will measure progress toward sustainability.

In Ecotrust's initial scoping of Willapa Bay, Economic Development Director Alana Probst noticed that people didn't lack creativity or business ideas. What was short in supply were business skills, marketing know-how and capital for unconventional business ventures. To solve those problems, Ecotrust persuaded South Shore Bank, famous for its success in revitalizing a blighted Chicago neighborhood, to collaborate on the Willapa Bay project.

The product, established with support from the Northwest Area Foundation, Heller Foundation, Carol P. Guyer Foundation, Sequoyia Foundation and the Ford Foundation, is ShoreTrust: the First Environmental Bankcorporation. A bank holding company, ShoreTrust will evolve into a system of banks and branches making loans to businesses that do conservation-based work. It is capitalized with $5.5 million in EcoDeposits made by foundations, individuals and non-governmental organizations; these development deposits link investors to environmentally-conscious projects. A votal capital base of $25 million is the goal.

Conservation-based rural deveopment

ShoreTrust Trading Group (STTG) is the bank's nonprofit affiliate. The point, says Mike Dickerson, marketing director of STTG, "is to create institutions within the coastal temperate rainforest that emphasize conservation-based rural development. It's neither feasible nor practical to go into multiple rural communities and create separate institutions. The idea is to focus on a broader bioregion with issues, ecologies and economies in common."

With an operating budget around $300,000 financed by foundations, corporations and fee-for-service activities, STTG aims to provide business development services to existing and wannabe entrepreneurs. A $2.5 million revolving loan fund, financed largely by Meyer Memorial Trust, Weyerhauser Corporation and the Northwest Area Foundation, has made three loans totaling $208,000 for timber, seafood and farming projects.

Within STTG will be two companies. One, a venture capital company, will make equity investments in businesses. The second, a brokerage company will be STTG's marketing arm, linking green products to green markets nationally and internationally. The focus is currently on Willapa Bay products.

STTG helps local entrepreneurs develop marketing materials and attend trade shows. Within several years, STTG plans to sell by catalogue an entire line of products from the coastal bioregion.

Environmental supply/demand

"The institutional structure has worked in other places," explains Dickerson. "If you create demand for products, the supply will follow. If you create demand, business will shift their mode of operation to more environmentally-sound approaches for new markets and higher margins."

Attracted to STTG because it represents a merger of community development and the environmental movement, Dickerson echoes Dye and Markham, "Everybody, whether they give you money or not, wants to see immediate results."

Check back in a decade.

Willapa Bay, WA . . . is located in a census tract of 974.6 square miles with 18,882 people, of whom 93.7% are white, .3% are black and 6% are of other races. Average annual per-capita income is $10,952. 

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