Prosperity Ag owner Christi Southerland was surprised to see the fruits of her labor packed in her children’s lunches.
She smiled when she saw the packaged applesauce included in the bagged lunches given to her children during the coronavirus pandemic. The applesauce came from a rural Michigan apple cooperative that received a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for the supplies to package its applesauce.
Prosperity Ag, a grant writing and consulting agency, worked with the business to secure the grant.
“The project allowed for jobs in a rural area of Michigan, and they needed it,” Southerland said. “It was really neat to see the project come full circle.”
Prosperity Ag supports organizations pursuing USDA funding. The agency has worked with a wide array of clients, including nonprofits, farmers, small businesses and rural electric cooperatives. Prosperity Ag clients have secured funding for projects across the continental U.S. and even several U.S. territories. The business has even worked with a Wabash Valley Power Alliance member electric cooperative.
“Christi’s extensive knowledge and working history with the USDA can help secure funding for projects in the communities served by our member co-ops,” said Brian Anderson, director of economic development for WVPA. “Prosperity Ag’s knowledge and experience with the USDA has led their clients to being able to fund projects that would not have been possible otherwise.”
The USDA Rural Economic Development Loan and Grant (REDLG) program offers funding that is provided through rural utilities. The USDA offers zero-interest loans to those utilities, which are in turn provided to local businesses. The USDA also offers rural utilities, such as electric co-ops, grants to establish revolving loan funds. The funds pay for projects that create or retain jobs in rural areas.
In 2021, Prosperity Ag worked with Fulton County REMC and the Fulton County Economic Development Corp. to secure a $190,000 matching REDLG grant. The funding paid for an 1,100-foot extension of a roadway and utilities to 32 undeveloped acres in a business park. With the grant, Fulton County REMC also created a community development fund to support future projects. WVPA paid for Prosperity Ag’s consulting and grant writing support.
“The project creates opportunities to bring in new business, grow existing businesses and bring in new tax revenue. That supports police and fire departments, along with schools,” Anderson said. “On top of that, Fulton County REMC’s fund has even more potential for the future. That project has a benefit multiplier.”
The REDLG program has significant potential for electric distribution cooperatives, particularly in Indiana, Southerland said. In some states, such as Iowa, organizations regularly pursue funding through the program.
“Indiana is underrepresented in a lot of the utility related programs,” Southerland said, “but especially so with REDLG.”
Money Means Business
Prosperity Ag’s business has increased following the USDA’s December 2022 announcement that $300 million is available for renewable energy and energy efficiency projects through the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP).
The USDA increased the maximum grant share of the total cost of an approved project to 40 percent from 25. The program also increased maximum award amounts to $500,000 from $250,000 for energy efficiency projects, and to $1 million from $500,000 for renewable energy systems.
Agricultural producers and businesses in rural areas can participate in the program, which makes it open to a wide group of people, Southerland said. Prosperity Ag quickly saw its demand increase: Southerland’s typical workload includes 20 REAP applications in the first quarter of the year; by mid-January she was working on 45 applications for projects across the nation.
Prosperity Ag also has a record of success: out of 28 grant applications submitted in 2022, 26 projects received funding.
“We’ve been very successful with that program. We score the projects based on the USDA’s score sheet before we submit them,” Southerland said. “We want to make sure it’s the best project possible for the program.”
Most of Prosperity Ag’s clients are in the Midwest, including communities served by WVPA member electric cooperatives. Prosperity Ag continues to highlight available USDA programs that can support WVPA member cooperatives’ mission to support their communities.
“The USDA offers unique opportunities that can have an incredible impact on regional growth and development,” Anderson said. “We want to make sure that as opportunities come along, we can partner with our member co-ops and secure funding that can be the difference in bringing these projects to life.”
For more information about Prosperity Ag or to learn how your co-op can pursue REDLG and other grant opportunities, visit ProsperityAg.com, or contact the WVPA economic development team at EconDev@wvpa.com.