Texas Forest Country planning Stronger Economies Together program

COLLEGE STATION – A group of East Texas counties in the Texas Forest Country region has been selected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development to participate in the Stronger Economies Together program.

The program is designed to help multi-county teams strengthen skills and resources for collaborating on economic development goals.

Counties for the program, also known as SET, are Angelina, Houston, Jasper, Nacogdoches, Newton, Polk, Sabine, San Augustine, San Jacinto, Shelby, Trinity and Tyler.

The Stronger Economies Together program is a partnership among USDA, the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, Prairie View Cooperative Extension Service and Texas A&M College of Architecture in cooperation with the Texas A&M Forest Service, Texas Center for Rural Entrepreneurship, Texas Department of Agriculture, Texas Farm Bureau and the Texas offices of the USDA Farm Service Agency and Natural Resources Conservation Service.

“Stronger Economies Together provides facilitation and coaching for local community stakeholders to work together to develop a regional economic development plan,” said Ronnie McDonald, AgriLife Extension executive director for community relations/strategic partnerships and the Texas Rural Leadership Program. “This community-based approach uses evidence-based planning and goal-setting to empower local action.”

“Participants will learn how to build a strong regional team and create plans and projects that will enhance the region’s overall level of income, employment  and quality of life,” said Paco Valentin,USDA Rural Development state director for Texas.

“One reason SET has been effective nationally is that the program helps rural communities take the positive approach of building upon the assets and strengths of their region to foster economic development,” said Jimmy Henry, community development program leader for Prairie View A&M Cooperative Extension.

The selection is a result of an application submitted by regional leaders following site visits to Lufkin and Center in April. The meetings and application demonstrated a willingness to bring diverse stakeholders, ideas and assets to the table.

“The communities and counties of this region have a history of working together on other projects, and now we are building on that partnership to achieve economic success,” said Jerry Huffman, director of the Texas Forest Country Partnership, Lufkin. “More than 30 partners signed on to our SET application. We’ve had at least 65 people from across the region at initial meetings and look forward to engaging more partnerships.”

The next SET meeting will be held from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. July 19 at Stephen F. Austin University in Nacogdoches. Residents from participating and neighboring counties are encouraged to become involved in the program.

Contact Huffman for more information at 936-632-3552 or jerryhuffman44@outlook.com.  For more information about SET, visit http://communities.tamu.edu/stronger-economies-together-set/.

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