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November 9, 2005


CHICAGO – In an innovative effort to lend a helping hand to thousands of farmers across Illinois hit hard by last summer’s drought and its devastating effects, Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich today announced a $250,000 grant to the Farm Resource Center, a not-for profit community group, that will allow the organization to provide vital job training, business development and referral services to at least 200 additional farm families in 20 more counties across Illinois.
“Illinois’ greatness was built on the backs of our farmers, and they continue to make us proud today.  While most of us have jobs with the security of a regular paycheck, our farmers’ livelihoods are subject to the unpredictability of nature.  Last summer’s drought caused many farmers great economic hardship, which was only intensified by the increase in the price of gas, fertilizer and other farm supplies.  While we can’t reverse the fortunes of a harsh summer, providing this support will ease the burden on our farmers this winter by enabling them to tap into new opportunities that will help them weather the storm until better harvests ahead,” Gov. Blagojevich said.
The Farm Resource Center is taking specifics steps to deal with these problems:
·        Provide counseling and referral services for those farm families affected, including preparing for reentry to the workforce, dealing with issues related to loss of a farm, resume writing, interviewing skills, access to child care, financial planning and budgeting, resource identification and job search techniques.
·        Provide access to employment and training programs for farmers who will need a second job to weather the storm.  This will include helping pay tuition cost for training when necessary.
·        Provide small business development and training services in partnership with the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity and Small Business Development Centers.
“Gov. Blagojevich and I believe that we need to step up to the plate to help our farmers through a very difficult time.  There is no cure all for the economic hardship they are experiencing, but this funding will help many farmers better their situation so they can continue providing for their families and meet their daily needs,” State Senator Gary Forby (D-Benton) said.
“After this difficult summer for our farmers, Gov. Blagojevich and I knew that more needed to be done to help them and their families deal with the economic and emotional toll caused by the drought.  By partnering with the Farm Resource Center, we are providing more support to help them make it through the winter and beyond,” State Senator John Sullivan (D-Rushville), Chairperson, Committees on Agriculture & Conservation, said.
“In times of trouble, we must always rally around those who feed our state, our country and our world.  With winter approaching and our farmers still reeling from the harsh summer, Gov. Blagojevich and I understood that we had to continue to reach out and offer the direct support and assistance that will help them and their families move forward,” State Representative Frank Mautino (D-Spring Valley) said.
“This is grassroots, community-based economic development at its finest.   Farmers across Illinois have been forced to deal with a number of devastating blows and greatly need our help.  Through Gov. Blagojevich’s leadership and this important funding, the Farm Resource Center will be able to send out service providers to sit down in the living rooms of 200 more farmers this year and provide the hands-on, direct assistance they need to get back on their feet,” said State Representative Brandon Phelps (D-Harrisburg).
The Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity will administer the grant to the Farm Resource Center (FRC).  The funding will allow the FRC to hire four new outreach workers and serve 200 additional farm families this year.  Because each FRC outreach worker covers a five-county area, the grant will enable the organization to serve families in 20 additional counties.  While the program is currently focused in Northern, West Central and Southern Illinois, it will now expand its service area to include Henry, Bureau, Knox, Stark, Peoria, Putnam, Marshall, Woodford, Livingston, Fulton, Mason, McLean, Menard, Logan, Tazewell, Williamson, Saline, Gallatin, Hamilton and White counties.
“A series of ucontrollable environmental factors have combined to put an especially heavy economic burden on many farmers across Illinois.  Often times, this financial hardship takes a major toll on their moral as well as their pocketbooks.  The goal of the Farm Resource Center is to offer a spectrum of services that will empower our farmers and their families to find the means to push through this tough period.  Partnerships like this one with Gov. Blagojevich's Opportunity Returns program are key to making that happen, and this funding will allow us to extend the reach of our services so that we can make a positive impact on more of their lives," said Roger Hannan, Executive Director of the Farm Resource Center.
“Illinois farmers are the unsung heroes of our economy, producing goods for markets all over the world and feeding us all.  Gov. Blagojevich’s economic development strategy is based in the belief that we can make the greatest impact by working with grassroots, local organizations that understand the needs of their communities the best, and this grant to the Farm Resource Center is a great example of that strategy in action,” DCEO Director Jack Lavin said. 
This funding is just one in as series of efforts Gov. Blagojevich has made to help farmers suffering from the effects of this year's drought.  In July, the Governor activated the Illinois Drought Response Task Force, and on July 25, 2005, Gov. Blagojevich requested federal disaster assistance for drought-stricken Illinois farmers who sustained substantial crop losses.  As a result of that request, United States Department of Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns declared nearly every county in the state a disaster area making the farmers eligible for low-interest loans to pay their bills and prepare for next year.
Gov. Blagojevich’s Opportunity Returns regional economic development strategy is the most aggressive, comprehensive approach to creating jobs in Illinois’ history.  Since a one-size-fits-all approach to economic development just doesn’t work, the Governor has divided the state into 10 regions – each with a regional team that is empowered and expected to rapidly respond to opportunities and challenges.  Opportunity Returns is about tangible, specific actions to make each region more accessible, more marketable, more entrepreneurial and more attractive to businesses.  It is about upgrading the skills of the local workforce, increasing the access to capital, opening new markets, improving infrastructure, and creating and retaining jobs. Opportunity Returns is about successfully partnering with companies and communities, both large and small, to help all of Illinois reach its economic potential.


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