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U.S. Department of Agriculture grant to fund expansion of University of Georgia’s PROPEL program

The University of Georgia Carl Vinson Institute of Government has received a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to expand its work with rural communities in Georgia.

The nearly $186,000 USDA grant will allow three additional Georgia counties – Crisp, Emanuel and Marion – to participate in the nationally recognized PROPEL (Planning Rural Opportunities for Prosperity and Economic Leadership) program starting in January 2024.

 “We appreciate the ongoing support from USDA and UGA Foundation, which has helped us grow PROPEL’s impact across Georgia,” said UGA Institute of Government Director Rob Gordon. “PROPEL is a strong example of how the institute improves the lives of Georgians through innovative tools and expertise that help build stronger communities and inspire economic success.”

PROPEL launched in 2022 with funding from USDA. Later that same year, the University of Georgia Foundation provided funds to launch the PROPEL Student Scholars program, which provides experiential learning opportunities for UGA students. The UGA Institute of Government leads the initiative in collaboration with other UGA Public Service and Outreach (PSO) units.

This latest grant, the third USDA grant awarded to PROPEL, is part of the federal agency’s Rural Community Development Initiative, which helps support community and economic development in rural communities.

“PROPEL is an instrumental resource for deepening our connection and relationships with rural communities we can assist across the state,” said USDA Rural Development State Director Reggie Taylor. “Trusted partners such as the University of Georgia Institute of Government guide communities toward a focused vision. This displays how the full cadre of Rural Development programs can be used to fund projects, bringing focused ideas into tangible reality.”

PROPEL provides rural communities with resources to support economic and community development strategies. Through the PROPEL model, UGA faculty, staff and students work with government and business leaders and other key community stakeholders to identify and execute a long-term vision for the community’s economic future. In addition, the PROPEL Rural Scholars program offers undergraduate students interested in rural Georgia opportunities to work alongside PSO mentors and community leaders on PROPEL projects.

The ongoing support from USDA recognizes the difference PROPEL is making in rural Georgia.

“PROPEL works so well because we partner closely with the participating communities. The community first works to identify issues they want to address, they build an action plan, and then they work through their plan. They get access to great support, applied research and technical assistance every step of the way,” said Greg Wilson, who leads PROPEL for the UGA Institute of Government. “We’re building a sustainable program to serve rural Georgia, and this new USDA grant will help us have an even greater impact.”

The first group of PROPEL communities (Appling, Grady, Pulaski and Washington counties, plus the Lower Chattahoochee Joint Development Authority, which includes Clay, Quitman, Randolph and Stewart counties), started in 2022. A second round of counties – Baldwin, Ben Hill and Burke – began the program in 2023. Crisp, Emanuel and Marion counties will make up the program’s third group in 2024.

PROPEL has helped participating communities with a range of projects, from downtown improvements and tourism planning to raising awareness about local employment opportunities and establishing social media plans.

PROPEL took home top honors in the Place category at the University Economic Development Association (UEDA) Awards of Excellence program in October. UEDA brings its members — higher education institutions, private sector businesses and economic development organizations — together to facilitate economic growth and expand economic opportunity in their communities. UEDA Awards of Excellence winners represent the top university-based economic development initiatives in the country, as judged by their peers.

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Rhiannon Eades
Greg Wilson
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