Last week, the White House Rural Council convened the second Made in Rural America Regional Forum to bring together local, state, and federal export-related resources for businesses and community leaders throughout the Mississippi River Delta Region.
The Delta Regional Authority and its state and local partners from Tennessee, Mississippi, and Arkansas hosted the forum at Southwest Tennessee Community College in Northeast Memphis. The Delta region, with its entrepreneurial history, available land, and accessible waterways and transportation network, is primed to reap the benefits of increased exports and participation in exporting.
More than 240 small business owners, industry representatives, community lenders, economic development officials, and community leaders attended the day-long forum. The forum offered business-to-business advice and best practices on expanding into international markets, highlighted financing resources, and facilitated discussion among regional leaders about how to incorporate exports into long-term economic development strategies.
Attendees were made aware of a new web portal on BusinessUSA.gov that the Administration launched last month to help rural businesses pursue export opportunities as well as other federal, state, and local resources available to rural companies, such as access to capital through the Export-Import Bank, Small Business Administration, and community lenders.
A number of small businesses attended, including Hydratrek, a manufacturer of amphibious vehicles for emergency response and recreation. Hydratek was able to showcase one of its vehicles as well as meet with local support service providers to discuss strategies to further expand its export business.
Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker headlined the forum and overviewed ways the Obama administration is building on its commitment to American businesses of all sizes, including through the Made in Rural America export and investment initiative as well as the recently launched National Export Initiative (NEI)/NEXT, which is bringing all federal trade-related resources to bear to help more U.S. companies export to more markets.
The President announced the Made in Rural America export and investment initiative at the 2014 Farm Bill signing in February. This announcement included specific commitments to be provided by the White House Rural Council, and we are making a lot of progress. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack kicked off the first Made in Rural America Regional Forum in Western Pennsylvania on June 4, hosted by the Appalachian Regional Commission. The Administration also announced a new web portal on BusinessUSA.gov dedicated to helping rural businesses pursue export opportunities.
Last week’s regional forum takes a big step in helping the Delta region’s rural communities and their small businesses to take advantage of export opportunities in the future. The Delta region has many of the assets that are necessary to positive export potential: an ideal location as a logistics hub with the Mississippi River, major interstates in I-40 and I-55, a historically entrepreneurial heritage, a strong workforce that is continually growing, and the raw materials desired by much of the world. This forum established the foundation for a network of support services that will help businesses capitalize on these assets.
The next regional forum will occur in Iowa in early August and will be headlined by the U.S. Trade Representative, Ambassador Michael Froman.
Chris Masingill is the Federal Co-Chairman of the Delta Regional Authority. Doug McKalip is the Senior Policy Advisor for Rural Affairs at the White House Domestic Policy Council.