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Partnership nets $50,0000 grant

Wednesday, November 15, 2017   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Kristine Thomas
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Independence receives $50,000 grant from The Ford Family Foundation


INDEPENDECE, OR. – Eager to establish Independence as the trailblazer in rural community and technology initiatives, Independence Economic Development Director Shawn Irvine now has the needed components to watch his plan “fly.”


Partnering with Strategic Economic Development Corporation or SEDCOR, the city of Independence received a $50,000 grant from The Ford Family Foundation. The funds will be used to hire a Regional Innovation Catalyst, who will work jointly for SEDCOR and Independence to broaden the reach and impact of the Smart Rural Community effort to encourage the establishment and growth of technology and agriculture-based companies in Polk County. The Regional Innovation Catalyst also will work to foster entrepreneurship and STEAM education programming in local schools and colleges.


An equally important factor in launching the Smart Rural Community project is the support by the Polk County Commissioners, who have played an integral role in supporting this project and economic development in the region.


“This project represents what happens when cities and counties collaborate to bring economic vitality and diversity to the region,” Polk County Commissioner Craig Pope said. “I am proud to be working with Independence and SEDCOR on this pioneering project to bring the agriculture and technology communities together to create good paying jobs for our county.”  


Pope added Polk County is one of the top agriculture producing regions in Oregon.


“There is a growing interest in agricultural technology and I am excited to see what happens by bringing technology and agriculture together and what they will do to create prosperity in our region,” Pope said. “I am thankful to The Ford Family Foundation for its support of our grant.”


For the last two years, Irvine has taken considerable steps to test the idea of building a Smart Rural Community. Realizing the concept needed a full-time employee to move forward, Irvine partnered with SEDCOR on the grant from The Ford Family Foundation, established by Kenneth W. and Hallie E. Ford in 1957. Based in Roseburg, the foundation’s mission is “successful citizens and vital rural communities” in Oregon and Siskiyou County, California.


“We’ve proven the concept and now this grant will help us make things fly,” Irvine said. “We’ve seen tremendous success fostering innovative partnerships for entrepreneurship and education, but it was almost a side project.  Now we can really focus on creating a robust effort around making Independence and Polk County a smart rural community.”


The grant, Irvine added, will give the concept the full attention it deserves by having a dedicated staff member to work with the agriculture and technology communities.


“We are excited about our innovative approach that is key to linking agriculture and technology to help create jobs and assist businesses to expand or start up,” Irvine said.


The grant allows Independence to move forward to create a model for other cities and counties to use on how to bridge the urban and rural divide to create prosperity in rural Oregon, Irvine added.


“Our goal is to create an environment that fosters networking, skills acquisition and startups as well as help grow existing businesses,” Irvine said. “We want to create well-paying jobs in Independence for the people who currently live here and those looking to move here.”


SEDCOR President Chad Freeman said the smart rural community project aligns perfectly with SEDCOR’s mission to retain, expand and grow businesses. For 35 years, SEDCOR has been the lead economic development agency to help business leaders reach their goals in Marion, Polk and Yamhill counties.


“The idea of bringing people to the table to find solutions to challenges facing agriculture businesses and helping companies in Independence connect with people in technology is inspiring,” Freeman said. “I believe this pilot program can be replicated in other cities and counties.”


Both Irvine and Freeman plan to have an employee hired by January and are eager to see the program grow.


“This is an innovative program that is built on the concept of people working together to make positive changes for their communities,” Freeman said. 

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