Funding Alert! Rural Business Development Grants

United States Department of Agriculture – Rural Development

Attention rural public entities and the organizations that support them! The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is now accepting proposals for its Rural Business Development Grants (RBDG) program. The overall goal of RBDG is to support economic development and job creation in rural areas. RBDG accomplishes this by funding technical assistance, training, and other activities targeted to small and emerging private businesses. RBDG applications are due February 28, 2022 to the applicant’s local or state USDA office.

Who is eligible to apply?

Rural public entities such as towns, communities, state agencies, nonprofits, institutions of higher education, rural cooperatives, and federally recognized tribes are eligible to apply for RBDG funding. Funding must benefit small businesses (less than 50 workers and $1 million in gross revenue) in rural areas or towns located outside of any cities with 50,000 or more residents. Check out USDA’s tool for determining the eligibility of specific addresses.

What are the program details?

RBDG projects fall into one of two categories: opportunity or enterprise. Opportunity grants support the establishment of business support centers, local job training, and leadership development. Projects might focus on community economic development, technology-based economic development, feasibility studies, business planning, leadership and entrepreneur training, rural business incubators, or long-term business strategic planning. Opportunity projects should align with local and state strategic plans and coordinate with other economic development plans and activities in the target area.

Enterprise grants more directly support the small and emerging businesses within a proposed target area. Eligible projects and expenses include training and technical assistance (e.g., business counseling, market research, feasibility studies, etc.), capital or construction projects (e.g., land acquisition or development, building construction or renovation, street and parking access improvements, machinery and equipment purchases, etc.), capitalization of business loan funds, distance adult learning for job training and advancement, rural transportation improvement, and other economic development activities.

While there is no maximum grant amount, the USDA prioritizes smaller requests. Project funding typically ranges from $10,000 to $500,000. RBDG grants do not require cost sharing.

What makes a project a good fit?

Potential RBDG projects are evaluated on evidence of local job creation, the amount of non-federal funding committed to the project, the target area’s economic need, alignment with state and local economic development priorities, and applicant experience.

In addition, the USDA emphasizes the following priority areas:

  • Assisting rural communities (particularly disadvantaged communities) as they recover economically from the COVID-19 pandemic;
  • Promoting equitable access to rural development programs and benefits for all rural residents; and
  • Reducing pollution and increasing resilience to the impacts of climate change in rural communities.

Because applications are evaluated at the state office level, potential applicants should check with their local office to determine if there are additional local requirements or priorities.

What if I am ready to apply? To move your project forward, take the following action steps as soon as possible:

  • Review the full program solicitation for additional details and review criteria.
  • Determine whether there are any requirements or other program information specific to your state. You can check this at the USDA’s RBDG program home page.
  • Contact your local state office to speak to the relevant program officer. They can answer any questions about the process and direct you to the correct forms for your state.
  • Make sure your System for Award Management (SAM) registration is active and be sure you have agov profile. You can check your SAM status here:

What if I need help with this application?

Contact Assel Grant Services (AGS) today! Our team can help with all aspects of preparing the application and managing the grant if you are awarded. If you would like to discuss this possibility, please contact AGS as soon as possible. Rosie Brennan, Community Engagement Specialist, will be happy to talk with you about this opportunity and provide you a quote for grant services.

What if I am not ready to apply this year?

Start preparing for next year! The USDA’s Rural Development office also has a variety of other programs and funding opportunities available that might be a good fit. The office’s website has ample resources and descriptions of available or upcoming opportunities.

How do I learn more about federal grant proposal writing, so my application is more likely to be successful?

AGS is excited to offer a new Federal Grants Training Series throughout 2021! The series is designed to support nonprofit leaders before and during the application process. AGS also offers several on demand webinars on a variety of topics to support the full grant cycle. Check out our website to learn more and sign up for our training newsletter.

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Competency #1: Knowledge of how to research, identify, and match funding resources to meet specific needs

Skill 1.2: Identify major trends in public funding and public policy

Skill 1.6: Identify fundable programs and projects for specific organization

Skill 1.7: Determine best matches between funders and specific programs