Gov. Haslam unveils $8 million rural economic development fund for Tennessee

Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam
photo Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam

NASHVILLE -- Gov. Bill Haslam and Economic and Community Development Commissioner Randy Boyd announced today the state is investing $8 million in a new Rural Economic Development Fund for the purpose of building capacity for "transformative economic development strategies" in rural Tennessee.

Officials announced the Rural Economic Development Fund today at the 62nd Annual Governor's Conference on Economic and Community Development.

The Rural Economic Development Fund will provide an initial $6 million for site development grants for communities to help move economic development sites to "shovel-ready" status as part of the state's existing Select Tennessee Site Certification program.

Another $1 million in grants will go toward enhancing tourism sites in rural communities with another $600,000 for additional ThreeStar community grants including a Main Street Business Incubator program for downtown business districts.

The Rural Economic Development Fund includes:

* $6 million Select TN Site Development Grants * $1 million Tourism-Based Economic Enhancement Program * $300,000 Main Street Incubator Grants * $250,000 ThreeStar Community Enhancement Awards * $250,000 Statewide Broadband Supply/Demand Analysis * $100,000 ThreeStar Asset Based Planning Assistance * $75,000 AgLaunch in cooperation with Launch Tennessee Funding for the new grant programs comes from one-time revenues in the department's current budget.

"Tennessee has embraced real change in our approach to workforce readiness with programs like the Tennessee Promise, and these new initiatives led by TNECD will help build capacity in rural areas and get them ready for investment and economic success," Haslam said in a news release.

Boyd said "Tennesseans are passionate about their communities. Here at TNECD, we are passionate about helping them develop dynamic, diverse economies and thriving communities. This investment will pay off for decades, helping generations of rural Tennesseans see that their communities reach full economic potential."

Officials say this represents a renewed focus on rural development with Boyd appointing Amy Blaylock New as the department's first assistant commissioner for rural development. The department also organized a statewide Rural Development Task Force.

Last month the department launched a new marketing campaign for the Memphis Regional Megasite, a state-owned 4,100-acre industrial site in rural West Tennessee.

Earlier this year, officials say, Boyd and New embarked on listening tours of rural , meeting with elected officials, business and civic leaders across the state on the opportunities and challenges facing rural communities.

The Rural Economic Development Fund will also provide $250,000 in funding for a statewide survey of broadband capacity in rural Tennessee

New said the programs the fund helps create are directly tied to feedback the department received during the listening tours.

"Our department decided to double down on rural economic development earlier this year," New said. "The Rural Economic Development Fund will help communities stretch their resources to make sure we have asset-based investment strategies in rural Tennessee. This fund will reinforce the exceptional work and investment by our local partners to prepare for the future economic growth."