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Texas Forest Country Partnership Receives Grant

The Texas Forest Country Partnership is the only location in Texas to receive a grant from USDA Rural Development and Texas A&M, and the Partnership will use the funds to create a regional economic development plan for the 12-county East Texas region.

The Partnership serves Angelina, Nacogdoches, Houston, Trinity, San Jacinto, Polk, Tyler, Jasper, Newton, San Augustine, Shelby, and Sabine counties.

The grant, through a program called SET (Strengthening Economies Together), has been a part of USDA Rural Development for the past six years and has helped develop regional and local economic development plans for many regions of the nation.

 “We are excited about the opportunity the SET program provides,” said Jerry Huffman, Partnership Executive Director. “With the vast resources available through USDA Rural Development and Texas A&M, we will be able to develop a strategic direction for the Forest Country region.  Also, a key part of the SET program is both USDA Rural Development and Texas A&M will continue to assist with implementation once the plan is complete. This will be an awesome part of the entire process.”

The Partnership will be working with a team of Texas A&M and USDA Rural Development to host sessions throughout the region over the next five to six months to develop input into this process.

The first civic engagement session, will be from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., Friday, May 13, at the Lufkin Convention Center. Anyone interested in being a part of the planning process is encouraged to attend. To register for the session, contact Huffman at the Partnership at 936-632-3552.

The session will be a valuable opportunity for local people to engage and share in discussions about the positive features and challenges of this region. It will serve as a foundation for building a regional economic blueprint for the region, Huffman said.

“Everyone’s voice is important, and participation from each of the 12 counties is welcomed and encouraged. Public input from the civic forum will help set the direction of the SET program over the next several months,” Huffman said, adding there are more than 80 area leadership and elected officials from across the region who have already agreed to support this effort. “We invite others who might be interested in participating to call our office.”

When the Partnership began the application process last fall, members were hopeful to be chosen for this program. “We received notice last month we were the only location in Texas chosen to participate in this round of funding.”

Ronnie McDonald, Administrative Assistant Office of the Director Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, said SET provides facilitation and coaching for local community stakeholders to work together to develop a regional economic development plan. "This community-based approach uses evidence-based planning and goal-setting to empower local action,” McDonald said.

SET is a national program designed to build capacity in high poverty areas, which is essential to accessing financial resources, building wealth, and spurring economic development. SET is a partnership of USDA Rural Development, Regional Rural Development Centers, Purdue Center for Regional Development, Texas A& M, USDA Rural Development in Texas and the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service were key to bringing SET to the Texas Forest Country region.

Launched in 2010, SET is now in place in more than 30 states. Learn more at www.srdc.msstate.edu/set .