Earlier this month the Agricultural Utilization Research Institute (AURI) was named the recipient of a $200,000 Rural Cooperative Development Grant (RCDG) provided by the USDA. This grant was one of 29 awarded to organizations in 22 states to help create jobs and support business expansion in rural areas and it is the third time AURI received a RCDG since 2010.

“America’s rural communities have incredible potential to create jobs and expand economic opportunities,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack while announcing the grant recipients. “Many rural businesses and organizations are succeeding under the cooperative business model, and with access to additional resources, they can boost job creation and create an environment where more products are made in rural America. The funding USDA is announcing today will provide the critical training and technical assistance rural cooperatives and non-profit groups need to help strengthen America’s ‘Main Street’ businesses.”

AURI’s grant is part of a $5.8 million initiative and it will use the funds to support its mission of fostering long-term economic benefit for Minnesota through value-added agricultural products. Specifically, the grant will enhance AURI’s Rural Cooperative Development Center in Minnesota, which will provide business development, technical assistance, coordination of local and state rural development activities. Specifically, the Development Center will offer due diligence assessments, assist in obtaining funds for research and development activities, conduct technical and economic feasibility analysis, support cooperative development strategies and develop strategic networking opportunities.

The goals for AURI’s Development Center are:

  • To effectively serve rural areas in the United States
  • To improve the economic condition of rural areas through cooperative development
  • To seek participation and expertise of business and industry, educational institutions, the Federal government, and State and local governments

“These RCDG dollars are important to Minnesota, AURI and its mission,” said AURI’s Executive Director, Shannon Schlecht. “The grant will enhance the technical and business assistance AURI has provided for over 25 years to help create new businesses and cooperatives as well as support existing companies with new product development.  We have identified business needs across at least seven Minnesota cooperatives, potential cooperatives and rural businesses representing over 2,500 producers and will work hand in hand to create and retain jobs as well as to generate new economic opportunities.”

Currently AURI offers services to new or existing rural cooperatives and mutually owned businesses in the areas of local foods marketing and distribution, coproduct utilization, biobased product development, feed processing, food processing, sustainable crop development and renewable energy.

The USDA requires recipients to contribute matching funds that equal 25 percent of total project costs. Minnesota’s legislative support of AURI provides the necessary cost-share assistance for the RCDG funds to help address the critical value-added agriculture business needs across the state that AURI encounters every day.

“The Rural Cooperative Development Grant program fosters and supports cooperative development by providing professional technical assistance, cooperative education and research materials,” said USDA Rural Development State Director Colleen Landkamer. “As a result, USDA fosters partnerships with organizations like AURI at the grassroots level that help to secure funding for projects in underserved areas.”

To learn more about AURI and the services offered to promote Minnesota agricultural commodity use, visit auri.org.

To learn more about USDA’s RCDG program, visit rd.usda.gov/programs-services/rural-cooperative-development-grant-program.