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September 28, 2006

Governor Blagojevich Provides Opportunity Returns Grants to Help Start New, Innovative Agribusinesses
More than $500,000 now available through state’s AgriFIRST program

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – Governor Rod R. Blagojevich today announced the availability of more than $500,000 in Opportunity Returns grants to encourage innovation and growth in Illinois agriculture.  Applications for the so-called AgriFIRST funds can be obtained from the Illinois Department of Agriculture and are due Dec. 15. 

“These grants will help to fund the development of new agribusinesses, which, in turn, will help to create new jobs and stimulate economic growth in rural communities throughout Illinois,” Gov. Blagojevich said.  “Agriculture is our state’s number one industry, and I am committed through this program to help create new agricultural ventures that ensure the industry remains number one in the future.” 

The Fiscal Year 2007 budget includes $564,480 in AgriFIRST incentives to promote “valued-added” agricultural ventures, or projects that turn raw commodities into marketable products and enable farmers to earn a larger share of the consumer dollar.  The program helps defray the start-up costs of qualified projects.

“These grants represent an investment in the future of Illinois agriculture,” Agriculture Director Chuck Hartke said.  “They will spur the innovations needed to increase demand for our agricultural products, keep us competitive in global markets and improve our farm profitability.”

Three types of AgriFIRST grants are available: 

• Technical assistance grants cover up to 75 percent of the cost of developing a “value-added” project.  The maximum award is $25,000. 
• Competitive assessment grants pay up to 50 percent of the cost of feasibility studies, business and marketing plans and consulting services, with a cap of $300,000 per project.
• Capital grants cover up to 10 percent of a qualified project’s construction cost, including the purchase of land, buildings and equipment.  The amount received cannot exceed $5 million.  

The deadline to apply for a grant this fiscal year is 5 p.m., Dec. 15, 2006.  Application forms are available on the Illinois Department of Agriculture’s website at www.agr.state.il.us or by calling Kim Janssen at (217) 785-5848.  A single project can apply for all three types of funding. 

Since its inception in 2001, the program has awarded grants totaling $3.7 million to more than 90 projects.  Recipients are studying the viability of ventures ranging from ethanol and biodiesel production facilities, to the use of grassy field crops as an alternative energy source, to the market potential of locally-grown organic food.

To be eligible for a grant, a project must “enhance the value of farm and agricultural products or by-products produced in Illinois.”  The program does not provide funding for technology research, promotion of proprietary products or compliance with the Livestock Management Facilities Act. 

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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