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Rural and Community Development

Background
During the last 30 years, dramatic social, economic and technological changes have occurred in many rural areas in the United States. Although farming continues to be an important source of income, most of rural America is moving from an agrarian to a post-agrarian economy. The results of this transformation have been uneven across the rural landscape. Some communities are facing economic decline and rural exodus, while in other communities, especially those in areas near large urban centers or rich in natural amenities, economic and population growth have accelerated. Even in rural communities where economic growth and population have grown, some have become more vulnerable to disasters caused by human action and/or climate changes. Many other communities are plagued by limited access to good schools, food, and health services. As a result, despite decades of intervention and billions of dollars in public investment, many rural residents are unable to utilize important government services and new scientific information that can help improve their quality of life; have higher food insecurity and childhood obesity rates; lack the required entrepreneurship and workforce skills to take advantage of emerging economic opportunities (e.g., climate change mitigation, safe food processing and marketing, etc.); and are hampered by insufficient modern infrastructure to rapidly benefit from growing public and private sector investment.
Applications may be submitted for the development of new technology, or for the utilization of existing technology, that address important economic and social development issues or challenges in rural America. The applications need not be centered on agriculture, but may be focused on any area that has the potential to provide significant benefits to rural Americans. All applications should explicitly discuss the specific rural problem or opportunity that will be examined and how this technology will successfully address the problem or opportunity. Applications submitted must include an objective to assess the impacts of the proposed project on the environment or the socio-economic development of rural areas.
 
To meet these identified problems and opportunities of rural development, the long-term (10 year) goal for this program is to develop and commercialize new technology, products, processes and services that will: (i) enhance the efficiency and equity of public and private investment in rural communities; (ii) build a diversified workforce to meet present and future needs; (iii) enhance resilience to both natural and human disasters; and (iv) enhance economic vitality of rural communities and, in turn, reduce rural poverty.
 
FY2016 Research Priorities:
 
Examples of appropriate subtopics for research applications from small businesses include, but are not limited to, the following: 
 
1.     Development of services and information and managerial systems that improve the efficiency and effectiveness of Local Governments and Public and Private Institutions.  Topics may include educational programs, including gaming, which address the specific needs of people in rural areas (e.g., development of entrepreneurship and workforce skills); new housing designs; improved health care delivery; appropriate educational, transportation and communication technologiesand services; and marketing of new information and technologies. 
 
2.     Development of technologies and services that protect or enhance the environment while promoting economic development. Topics may include technologies and services that protect the ecosystem, conserve energy, develop alternative energy sources such as wind and solar energy (excluding biofuels), etc. 
 
3.     Reducing the vulnerabilities of rural communities from hazards (excluding intentional acts such as terrorism).  Procedures are needed to make rural communities more sustainable to natural or unintentional hazards such as food-borne illnesses, food contamination, droughts, hurricanes, etc., through better preparation, forecast and warning, response and rebuilding phases of hazard mitigation, including communication. 
 
4.     Development of technologies and services that specifically address the needs of youth, the elderly, military veterans, and the low-income sector of the rural population.  Efforts are needed that will enhance human capital development, build earnings capacity, promote food security, including issues of access to adequate amounts and quality of foods, increase labor force participation and/or promote job creation to the most vulnerable populations in rural communities. 
 
5.     Increasing opportunities for employment and income generation in rural communities. Topics may include rural tourism, agri-tourism, off-farm value-added agricultural development, etc.
 
 
Mr. Brent Elrod, National Program Leader for SBIR Rural Development may be contacted at belrod@nifa.usda.gov or (202) 690-3468 regarding questions about the topic area or to arrange a telephone consultation.

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