Michigan’s ‘Rural Readiness’ program expands efforts to focus on small-town development

rural readiness

Photo Illustration/Scott Legato/Getty Images

By Kyle Kaminski

June 7, 2024

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is expanding a state program that connects rural communities with federal funds—with plans to attract investment, improve housing, and fix up roads.

MICHIGAN—Job opportunities in small towns across Michigan are set to multiply this year as Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administration expands its efforts to connect rural communities with more federal resources, boost up their local economies, and build out more infrastructure.

This week, Whitmer and US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced an expansion of the state’s Rural Readiness Program, which provides grants up to $50,000, as well as other technical support, to help small towns boost economic development and job opportunities.

Through a new partnership with Resource Rural, a nonprofit group that aims to steer federal funding to rural pockets of the country, state officials said the grant program will now be able to offer even more “direct, hands-on support and connections” to help small, often under-resourced communities plan for federal grant opportunities, as well as attract new business investment.

It’s called the Rural Readiness Network.

“The Rural Readiness program will help rural communities across Michigan get ready to apply for and win federal investments to build housing, fix roads, create jobs, and so much more,” Whitmer said in a statement. “By helping communities improve their capacity to compete for the grants and resources they need, we can keep delivering on the fundamentals that every family, small business, and small town needs to thrive. … Together, we’ll keep growing our economy and making progress on the issues that make a real difference in people’s lives.”

Beyond connecting rural communities with federal grants that are available as a result of the Inflation Reduction Act and Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the program is also set to connect rural areas with networking opportunities to help attract private investment and create jobs.

In a statement, Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development Director Tim Boring said that any efforts to lure more resources to rural areas of the state are a “win-win for all.”

“Michigan has become a destination for our food and agriculture industry. We continue to see increases in economic opportunities, advancements to supply chains, and investments into critical infrastructure, especially within Michigan’s rural communities,” he said. “This expansion of the Rural Readiness program will provide new opportunities for our rural communities to thrive while fostering sustainable and long-lasting progress for future generations.”

Whitmer established the Michigan Office of Rural Development in 2022, largely in response to concerns from rural Michiganders who wanted to ensure state policies, programs, and other resources were tailored to match the unique needs of rural areas. Last year, the office was renamed as the Office of Rural Prosperity and charged with focusing on key rural challenges— like housing, broadband, infrastructure, workforce development, and health care access.

With only three dedicated staff members, the office was able to launch the Rural Readiness grant program last year, and has since leveraged millions of dollars in investment across the state—including funding to support housing, healthcare access, infrastructure, and more.

Vilsack said that legislation signed by Biden in recent years has carved out an “unprecedented” amount of federal grant funding for rural communities; They need only apply for the cash.

“The Michigan Rural Readiness Network will help rural communities take steps toward increased economic prosperity,” Vilsack said. “Under the Biden-Harris Administration, USDA and its federal partners are making unprecedented investments in rural America while ensuring those investments are accessible to the communities that have been left behind in the past.”

The Office of Rural Prosperity also released a 70-page report this year that spelled out several challenges—like a lack of housing and job opportunities—that are facing Michigan’s rural communities, as well as outlined some statewide strategies that might be able to solve them.

State officials will reportedly use the roadmap as a guide for future policies and legislation.

Click here to join the state Office of Rural Propsperity’s launch event from 10-11 a.m. on June 12. The virtual event is designed to help local governments and other community stakeholders learn more about the newly expanded program, and how to get connected to resources.

READ MORE: Live in the country? Michigan’s small towns are about to get a little bigger.

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Follow Political Correspondent Kyle Kaminski here.

Author

  • Kyle Kaminski

    Kyle Kaminski is an award-winning investigative journalist with more than a decade of experience covering news across Michigan. Prior to joining The ‘Gander, Kyle worked as the managing editor at City Pulse in Lansing and as a reporter for the Traverse City Record-Eagle.

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