EAST GREENSBORO, N.C. (June 9, 2022) – The U.S. Department of Agriculture has awarded $1.92 million to the College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University to establish an Agriculture Business Innovation Center.
The new innovation center will serve as a technical assistance hub to enhance agriculture-based business development opportunities nationwide, with a primary focus on outreach to socially disadvantaged populations and historically underserved communities.
“The center’s primary goal will be to increase the number of successful agricultural businesses through tailored training and incubation of startups.” said Mohamed Ahmedna, Ph.D., dean of the college. “This project is an integral part of our land-grant mission to serve small, minority and limited-resource agriculture producers. We expect the center’s impact to be immediate and extensive.”
Agriculture and agribusiness is North Carolina’s leading industry, accounting for one in five jobs and almost $100 billion in economic impact each year. Nationwide, agriculture, food and related industries contributed $1.055 trillion to the U.S. gross domestic product, according to the USDA.
“As such, it’s vitally important that small-scale growers and ranchers, and students, not be left behind, but be put in a position to capitalize upon the economic opportunities present in the market,” Ahmedna said. “This center will help us to bring the collective research and expertise of the 1890s system to encourage agribusiness entrepreneurship.”
“The Biden-Harris Administration is committed to supporting historically underserved communities and this new center will be pivotal as we continue to “build back better” the fabric of our nation’s communities and businesses,” said USDA Deputy Secretary Jewel Bronaugh. “This latest investment will expand the capacity of our nation’s HBCUs to advance multidisciplinary teaching, outreach and integrated projects to build better markets, enhance economic development and support new and existing agricultural businesses.”
Led by North Carolina A&T, in partnership with Kentucky State University, Alabama A&M University and West Virginia State University, the center will provide both virtual and in-person technical assistance for business and workforce development training in a variety of ways:
- Providing technical assistance to food and agricultural producers, offering production scale assessments, market planning and development, business planning and other advisory services;
- Assisting startups in agribusiness including planning and obtaining funding; providing workforce development and educational experiences for students interested in careers in agriculture business;
- Offering outreach services and activities such as training, workshops and dissemination of information and materials.
The center will serve as a hub for regional and national partners to work together to facilitate access to private venture capital, data tracking and analysis, evaluation and measurement for effective programming in outreach, said Kenrett Jefferson-Moore, Ph.D., chairwoman of the Department of Agribusiness, Applied Economics and Agriscience Education and a project leader for the new center.
Other leaders of the center will include Kathleen Liang, Ph.D., Kellogg Distinguished Professor of Sustainable Agriculture at A&T, and Michelle Eley, Ph.D., Cooperative Extension specialist for community development.
“One of our objectives is to develop an entrepreneurial academy,” Jefferson-Moore said. The academy will offer a professional development certification program; a “tournament of ideas” competitive scholarship program for socially disadvantaged farms, firms, and students to be able to advance their ideas; and a model for supervised agribusiness entrepreneurship, so that participants can continue to receive support from the center during their business’s incubation period.
The second goal, to provide workforce-oriented entrepreneurial training, will be delivered through student experiential learning programs; an industry speaker series; and internships, said Jefferson-Moore, who is also vice-chair of the National Agricultural Research, Extension, Education and Economics Advisory Board.
As such, the new business innovation center is a perfect complement to the NIFA-funded 1890 Center of Excellence for Student Success and Workforce Development already housed at A&T, said Acting NIFA Director Dionne Toombs, Ph.D.
“The combination of these two centers will deliver a much-needed boost to the next generation of agricultural professionals and will support growth, profitability and success of existing businesses to increase employment opportunities in the field,” Toombs said.
Work on the center’s projects will begin as soon as possible, Jefferson-Moore said.
“We are incredibly excited to begin work on this project and deeply appreciative that USDA has shared our vision,” she said.
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