Federal funding available for infrastructure, workforce needs surrounding Blue Oval development

Blue Oval

By KATE COIL

TML Communications Specialist

Numerous opportunities for federal funding to aid in infrastructure and workforce development are available for municipalities as they prepare for anticipated needs rising from the Blue Oval City development.

Officials with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC), Delta Regional Authority (DRA), USDA Rural Development, and U.S. Department of Economic Development Administration (EDA) spoke at a webinar hosted by the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development (TNECD) about what opportunities their agencies have for West Tennessee communities.

Spokespeople representing federal congressional leadership were also on hand, encouraging any communities seeking federal grants to help with these issues should contact their local offices of U.S. Sen. Bill Hagerty, U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn, or U.S. Rep. David Kustoff to ask for support with any applications for federal grant or loan programs aimed at Blue Oval City-related projects.

INFRASTRUCTURE FUNDING

Ensuring infrastructure is in place to serve the expansion of businesses, residents, and services is a priority to cities in the region, and there are funding opportunities available to help with everything from water and wastewater to expanding broadband, roads, and municipal facilities.

Paula Mitchell, deputy director of central office operations with TDEC’s Division of Water Resources, said the amount of federal dollars flowing into state administered programs, like the State Revolving Loan Fund, means there will be more funding than usual for grants and loans involving drinking water, wastewater, and stormwater.

Important Links

  • To learn more about programs and funding opportunities through TDEC, click here.
  • To learn more about programs and funding opportunities from the Delta Regional Authority, click here.
  • To learn more about programs  and funding opportunities available through the USDA Rural Development, click here or view the program matrix here.
  • To learn more about programs and funding opportunities through the U.S. EDA, click here

Allocations from the EPA to TDEC administered programs are expected to be four times higher than their usual amount for fiscal years 2023-2026, and additional funds will be coming from the federal Bipartisan Infrastructure Funding (BIL) program. Mitchell said the BIL funds will include funding for some new programs, including one to replace lead water pipes and another dealing with emerging containments. TDEC will be doing more outreach in the summer as more guidelines are released about these new programs.

Additionally, Mitchell said the state will soon be launching its non-competitive grant program aimed at drinking water, wastewater, and stormwater projects, funded through $1 billion in ARP funds. Proposals will be accepted between April and Sept. 30 with a 15% to 30% match required. Mitchell advised officials to use federal funds strategically to move projects forward.

“We think a great first strategy is to focus on planning and design projects with ARP funds, particularly because the funding and timing associated with those funds is so tight,” she said. “It is very difficult to execute construction projects quickly. This is a great opportunity to use ARP funds for planning and design and then to take advantage of these additional BIL funds for construction.”

Kemp Morgan, director of project development and management with DRA, said his organization offers several grant programs aimed at addressing infrastructure programs. The States’ Economic Development Assistance Program (SEDAP) typically allocates $1.5 million to Tennessee, but Morgan said the BIL funding has allowed them to increase that and other program funding for the next few years.

Projects covered by this grant program include basic public infrastructure, water, sewer, broadband, transportation infrastructure relating to industry needs, business development, and workforce development.

DRA also offers a Community Infrastructure Fund (CIF) program, which has a deadline of June 5 for projects. In addition to offering funds for a lot of the same infrastructure needs as the SEDAP program, Morgan said the CIF program also offers elements focused on flood control. Most DRA programs are typically submitted through local development districts, and Morgan advised interested officials to reach out to their development district for help with applications.

Arlisa Armstrong, state director for Tennessee Rural Development, said there are numerous infrastructure programs being funded through BIL funds and USDA that West Tennessee cities can take advantage of.

“We are committed to working with the people in rural communities by investing in infrastructure and opportunities to help them prosper,” Armstrong said. “There is an enormous amount of funding being made available right now through the BIL. Whether it is through federal or state funding, we support all of these programs and appreciate the partnership we have with all of you.”

Armstrong said the USDA’s Rural Utilities program focuses mainly on water and wastewater programs in rural areas with a population of 10,000 or less. There is also a specific program under the Rural Utilities program focusing on broadband internet connection. The Telecommunications Infrastructure Loans and Grants program works to deploy high-speed internet in rural communities.

USDA also offers the Community Facilities program, which is a direct loan and grant program, for essential community facilities to construct or improve facilities related to public safety, healthcare, education, local governments, and downtowns.

Lucas Blankenship with EDA said there are several agency programs available to meet infrastructure needs. The Economic Adjustment Assistance (EAA) program provides funds for construction and non-construction activities including engineering, design, technical assistance, economic recovery strategies, and funds for revolving loan funds. Blankenship said EDA is looking for projects that invest in critical infrastructure such as broadband, energy, roads, water, sewer, rail spurs, industrial access roads, and other economic development related infrastructure.  

WORKFORCE DEVELOPMENT PROGRAMS

Funds are also available for workforce needs including worker training, small business expansion and growth. In addition to the SEDAP program, Morgan said DRA offers several funding opportunities related to workforce development.

Through a partnership with the U.S. Department of Labor and Appalachian Regional Commission, Morgan said the DRA offers funds through the Workforce Opportunity for Rural Communities (WORC) program. Funds from this program require a consortium that can include local governments, non-profits, and private businesses. This program can provide workforce training on a larger scale.

For workforce development on a smaller scale, Morgan recommends officials look into the Delta Workforce Program (DWP), which offers grants typically capped at around $250,000 but can offer grants as high as $450,000.

Armstrong said USDA offers a Rural Business Development Grant, which is offered to nonprofits and public bodies that are helping the emergence of small businesses in rural communities. These funds can help with the development of strategic plans, feasibility studies, and job or workforce training to encourage small business. The program can also be used for revolving loan programs to help local businesses.

USDA also offers a Business Guaranteed Loan program for startups and existing businesses looking to expand in rural communities while the Rural Energy for American Program (REAP) offers assistances to business and agriculture looking to incorporate renewable energy systems into their businesses, ranging from insulation and refrigeration to LED lighting and installing solar panels.

Blankenship said EDA also supports workforce development and manufacturing projects meet the needs of development and with a specific emphasis on programs that deal with apprenticeships and work/training models. These funds can also be used for facilities to house these programs. Another EDA focus is on programs that support growth in U.S. exports or increased foreign direct investment.

For more community information on Blue Oval City, click here