James Eldridge

James Eldridge, president/CEO of Ada Jobs Foundation, is shown March 13, 2018. The Ada Jobs Foundation will participate in a program that supports communities in their efforts to create jobs for a digital economy.

The Ada Jobs Foundation’s efforts to help local startups and small businesses received a boost recently, when the nonprofit organization was chosen to participate in the 2020 Rural Innovation Initiative.

The program, which helps rural communities develop strategies to create jobs for today’s digital economy, stems from a cooperative agreement between the consulting firm Rural Innovation Strategies Inc. and the U.S. Economic Development Administration. It was launched two years ago by the Center on Rural Innovation and RISI, with financial support from The Siegel Family Endowment and Walmart.

Ada will benefit from participating in the program, which provides assistance to communities trying to position themselves as innovation hubs, said Ada Jobs President and CEO James Eldridge.

“We’re hoping that at the conclusion of this, we’ll sort of get a finalized report from CORI about how do we build this innovation hub strategy and how do we connect with different resources in the community,” he said Tuesday. “The other thing about this program is, it’s offered a partnership with the Economic Development Administration. 

“We know that there are staff with the regional innovation program at the EDA that are going to be kind of listening to what’s going on, working in concert. And if there’s an opportunity identified for funding with the EDA, that we have a very good resource in being able to know who the staff are that run certain programs and know how the granting system works.”

Ada Jobs and other participating communities will receive assistance from RISI, which helps rural clients with their economic-development efforts. Those resources will include on-site and video conferences with RISI staffers, as well as opportunities for collaboration with similar communities.

The communities will also receive resources to help them carry out an economic-development model designed to train residents in digital skills, which will be useful in today’s economy, according to a news release from RISI.

RISI officials will work with communities on applying for grants that fit their specific characteristics and goals. Some participants may seek federal grants this year if they raise up to $750,000 in matching funds in the first half of 2020, while others will focus on developing plans and forming partnerships to build their strategies for navigating a digital economy.

Participants will also receive technical assistance to help them refine their economic development strategies, identify partnerships and draw on existing resources.

RISI officials are looking forward to working with the Ada Jobs Foundation, said Matt Dunne, executive director of RISI and founder of the Center on Rural Innovation.

“Entrepreneurship is baked into the culture of Ada, and given the work AJF and its partners have been doing, the region is poised to be a leader in tech-powered innovation that creates opportunities for decades to come,” he said in the news release.

Eric Swanson is the City Hall and general assignment reporter for The Ada News. He spent 15 years working at the Dodge City Daily Globe in Dodge City, Kansas, before joining The Ada News’ staff in 2012.

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