The University of Oregon's EDA University Center, a component of the long-running Community Service Center, will expand its student-driven economic development efforts across Oregon under a new grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce's Economic Development Administration (EDA).
The grant will feed $125,000 a year for up to five years, based on annual federal budgetary approval, into the EDA center under a matching-support arrangement to fund a $1.3 million project. The center will continue with its already strong service-learning approach, which it implemented under original EDA funding three years ago, said Community Service Center Director Robert Parker.
The UO's EDA center puts graduate students into rural communities, where they get field-based learning experiences in helping businesses address such needs as job creation or expansion. Under the new grant, Parker said, the EDA center will work in conjunction with the UO Department of Economics and Lane Community College's office of the Oregon Small Business Development Center Network. The program will seek to build long-term partnerships in economically distressed counties. Currently, 31 of the state's 36 counties meet that designation.
"With this vital EDA assistance, the University of Oregon will continue to provide technical assistance to businesses and organizations in economically distressed communities throughout Oregon," Parker said. "Building local capacity is the foundation of our approach. Many Oregon communities have the desire to pursue a local economic development agenda that focuses on innovation and entrepreneurship but lack technical expertise or staffing capacity. Our goal is to build the capacity in communities to set strong, forward-looking policies, develop collaborative networks and mobilize new investment resources."
Efforts will extend beyond the typical initial stages of community needs assessment or strategic planning, he said. "In short, we will help businesses and communities focus on implementation and outcomes." The focus will include economic development in collaboration with local governments, Oregon's Native American tribes and private business.
It is important, Parker said, to help diversity Oregon's economy. Among the new goals will be helping businesses conduct feasibility studies, business planning and analyses in conjunction with Drive Oregon's efforts to grow new jobs related to the electric vehicle market, particularly to help Oregon companies be part of the supply chain of components needed in the industry.
The UO's EDA center — one of several service delivery portals of the Community Service Center — has a long list of completed projects. It is now involved in impact analyses of Latino business community and the snow ski industry across the state, solid waste management in Eugene, a comprehensive business strategy for the Cow Creek band of the Umpqua tribe, a guide for permitting and siting potential bioenergy facilities, a review of water quality issues in Turner, Ore., and an evaluation of the Eugene Water and Electric Board's pilot program for smart meters.
"For the past three years, the UO's EDA center has successfully put students on the front lines of economic development efforts in distressed communities throughout Oregon," said Kimberly Andrews Espy, UO vice president for research and innovation. "Students benefit from this service-learning approach and communities benefit by gaining access to applied research, capacity building and other technical assistance. Thanks to this grant, the EDA program will impact students and communities in new and exciting ways, and continue to provide a platform for long-term economic growth in our state."
The UO center was one of 18 university-based programs in 16 states to receive EDA funding for Fiscal 2012, in a selection process that covers different U.S. regions based on funding cycles. This year's awardees are in the Seattle and Atlanta regions.
About the Community Service Center
The Community Service Center, which is housed at the UO, is an interdisciplinary organization that assists Oregon communities by providing planning and technical assistance to help solve local issues and improve the quality of life for Oregon residents. Its role is to link the skills, expertise, and innovation of higher education with the economic development and environmental needs of communities and regions in the State of Oregon, thereby providing service to Oregon and learning opportunities to the students involved.
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