Recruitment open for Oklahoma regions to take part in Stronger Economies Together program
Wednesday, March 8, 2017
Oklahoma is among six states selected to take part in Stronger Economies Together Phase Seven, a proven, highly interactive program that promotes rural economic development.
“The basic format is that community and county residents and leaders in a regional program work together to identify and understand their strengths and weaknesses with the help of OK-SET professionals drawn from key state and federal agencies, land-grant university Extension programs and other public and private organizations,” said Dave Shideler, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension community development specialist.
In addition to building cooperating partnerships, benefits include the ability to access U.S. Department of Agriculture set-aside funds for regional projects.
OSU’s Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources administers the SET program in Oklahoma through one of its two state agencies, the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service.
“It’s no secret that creating, attracting and retaining jobs as a single rural county, in isolation from other nearby counties, are increasingly ineffective,” Shideler said. “SET is a way to reach the needed critical mass of knowledge, talents, skills and resources to effectively develop and enact a successful plan of action.”
SET Phase Seven regions must meet at least one of these two conditions:
● 51 percent or more of the region's population is classified as rural; or
● 75 percent of the region's land area is located in rural areas of that region.
Thirty-five hours of training is delivered to each SET-approved region of three or more counties. Much of the training involves hands-on work on the regional plan by team members. In addition, as many as 40 hours of technical assistance may be offered to facilitate the implementation of the regional plan.
Shideler said Oklahoma’s Crossing Borders Region – Adair, Cherokee, Delaware and Sequoyah counties – recently completed the Phase Five regional planning process and received approval from the national SET committee.
“They’re getting $5,000 in seed money from USDA-Rural Development to implement several important elements of their plan,” Shideler said. “The plan satisfies specific grant requirements relative to several federal agencies, which is a key to qualify for the set-aside funds.”
The first step in qualifying for SET is to identify a region made up of three or more contiguous counties. Once that is done, the group of county participants must then download and complete the official application form available online at http://srdc.msstate.edu/set/apply. Be sure to download the form under the Oklahoma Regional Application listing.
“Be aware the listed deadline for Phase Seven has been extended to March 24,” Shideler said. “SET really is a fantastic opportunity for counties to work together and capture funding enabling them to take meaningful, positive steps toward developing their regional economic resources.”
Once the application has been processed, SET will set up and conduct a site visit to the participating counties.
“The site visit has two primary purposes,” Shideler said. “It helps ensure county participants are able to ask questions about their responsibilities relative to taking part in the program and it allows SET officials to get a firsthand sense of the counties’ specific situation.”
Approval of new Phase Seven regions will occur sometime in April. Selected regions will begin the planning process in May.
Launched in 2010 by USDA Rural Development and the nation’s four Regional Rural Development Centers and their land-grant university partners, the SET initiative is now in place for 94 regions in 32 states.
Anyone seeking additional information about SET efforts in Oklahoma should contact Shideler by phone at 405-744-6170.