EPA offers funds to revitalize downtowns in rural America

Working with federal partners, EPA will select 30 or more communities for assistance through competitive process.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency invited rural communities to apply for planning assistance to develop strategies that help grow the economy and revitalize downtown neighborhoods. EPA is offering this assistance as part of Rural Advantage, a suite of federal economic development planning assistance programs for rural communities.

“Rural Advantage is helping communities reinvent themselves in ways that are good for the economy and the environment,” EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said. “We are excited to partner with communities that want to use their unique rural assets to create a brighter, healthier future.”

Communities may apply for assistance through the following programs:

•      Local Foods, Local Places (LFLP), which helps communities leverage local food enterprise to diversify their economy and renew their downtown.

•      Cool & Connected, which helps communities use broadband service to create walkable, connected, economically successful neighborhoods.

•      Healthy Places for Healthy People, a new program that will help communities partner with health care facilities to catalyze downtown revitalization and to improve options for healthy living and economic opportunity.

Rural Advantage allows federal experts to work side by side with residents and local leaders to create customized solutions, bolstering coordination across agencies and improving how they interact with and serve community partners.

EPA and federal partners have provided Rural Advantage assistance to 83 communities since 2008. Sixty-eight communities have been selected for assistance through LFLP, and 15 communities have received assistance through Cool & Connected, 10 of which are in Appalachia.

In 2012, Williamson, W Va., was selected to participate in the Livable Communities in Appalachia program, the predecessor to LFLP. Through that effort, a team of small-town development experts worked with Sustainable Williamson to create an action plan tailored to achieving the town’s goals, including improving access to food to realize better health outcomes.

Upon implementing the plan, Sustainable Williamson received an $80,000 planning grant from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services’ Health Resources & Services Administration. That grant helped create a Federally Qualified Health Center that later received an additional $650,000 to support clinic operations. Sustainable Williamson also established a downtown farmers market and community garden that increased access to healthy foods for Williamson residents. The Williamson Health & Wellness Center received LFLP assistance in 2015 to provide support to new entrepreneurs starting up their businesses in the local food and health care sectors and to expand the community’s innovative approaches to creating a culture of health.

In Montrose, Colo., the Cool & Connected action plan helped advance Proximity Space, an award-winning co-working project, and link it to the community’s efforts to build a walkable and investment-ready downtown. Co-working space allows people to access high-speed internet, conference rooms and office equipment and is one of many ways that small towns can leverage broadband to boost Main Street development.

Communities selected for this latest round of assistance will work with an EPA-supported team of experts, including through a two-day workshop, to develop strategies and action plans that enable them to realize their local revitalization goals. The team will include people with expertise in community development and representatives of the federal agencies that sponsor the three programs so communities can build connections and take better advantage of federal programs and resources.

Working with federal partners, EPA will select 30 or more communities for assistance through a competitive process.

EPA’s Rural Advantage federal partners are the U.S. Department of Agriculture, HHS, the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development, the U.S. Department of Transportation, the Appalachian Regional Commission, the Delta Regional Authority and the Economic Development Administration.

Communities may apply by submitting letters of interest by Nov. 6. For more information and to submit an application, visit www.epa.gov/smartgrowth

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