December 5, 2020

New USDA rural development grants create, save jobs in Eastern Panhandle | West Virginia

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — The state director for West Virginia with the U.S. Department of Rural Development office had some good economic news Monday when he announced $66,905 in grant funding that will benefit the Eastern Panhandle.

Two nonprofit organizations will use the rural business development money to create at least six jobs and also save a position, Kris Warner said.

“This is a good day, and I’m happy because the businesses and community will both benefit from these grants,” he said in a telephone interview.

“We are always pleased to help West Virginia communities grow through business development. We are doubly excited when that business development leads to creating and saving jobs.”

Warner announced the funding during a presentation at Matthews Foundry, a 19th-century stone building in Martinsburg’s historic industrial core.

Civil-Military Innovation Institute received $47,500 to provide technical assistance and business consulting services to small businesses. It is a West Virginia-based nonprofit that has on-campus office space at Shepherd University, according to its website. The project will create four jobs and save one.

It is being used to provide consulting assistance to Modern Renovations, a local company that has purchased the old foundry and is in the process of renovating the facility into a microbrewery, wedding venue and pizzeria, according to Matthew Bell, a public information officer for the Office of the West Virginia State Director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Tentative plans also call for it to become the new home of the Martinsburg Farmers Market in spring 2021, Bell said.

Semper Liberi Inc. of Martinsburg was awarded $19,405 to continue a vocational reentry specialist position that helps individuals completing residential substance abuse treatment connect with area businesses and streamline the workforce reentry process. The project will create at least 2 jobs.

“We don’t have dollars available specifically to help fight the opioid problem, but we can be very creative with our programs to be able to help in this area,” Warner said. “Where there’s a will, there’s a way, and we’re finding it.”

The new grants illustrate the agency’s continuing efforts to build on its traditional funding foundation while also addressing other emerging issues such as broadband expansion, Warner said.

“A lot of county school boards are still trying to reach homes where kids live who don’t have good internet. They are either not served or underserved. But in the last year, we’ve been able to bring in just over $43 million in broadband expansion,” he said.

“Something else that’s been popular is distance learning and telemedicine. I think we received 26 applications this past year, and in the next 45 to 60 days, we’ll be making an announcement on them.”

The projects announced Monday are part of a group of 13 projects in 36 counties across the state with a combined rural business development grant investment of $577,000, according to a news release announcing the funding.

The funding can be used for training and technical assistance, acquisition or development of land/easements or rights of ways, feasibility studies and business plans.

Grants represent a collaborative relationship between the agency and recipients because they also must contribute funding toward the project, Warner said.

“For example, the Civil-Military Innovation Institute is also investing $68,000 as a match to our $47,500, so the total project is $115,000, and it really is a win/win situation,” he said. “This is a perfect example of what the rural business development grants do.

“If we can help with that flow of capital and incentivize or encourage others like them to invest, to create jobs or retain jobs, we’re going to do that.”

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