It was a good day in Suwannee, Hamilton, Madison and Lafayette counties Aug. 10 when the USDA Rural Development's State Director Charles Clemons Sr. brought a $150,000 check to Suwannee County Chamber of Commerce that will be used for all four counties.

Clemons said the money that won't have to be paid back, will be used to develop business enterprise centers in the four-county area to help small businesses get a foothold and grow into bigger businesses. The grant will give these small businesses in the four counties increased access to economic development assistance.

The four-county area is part of an area recently designated as a "Rural Area of Critical Economic Concern" by the state of Florida. During the check presentation ceremony at the Suwannee County Chamber of Commerce, Clemons presented a check for $150,000 to Suwannee Economic Alliance President Dennis Cason. "The Bush Administration is committed to the future of America's small businesses," said Clemons. "Through this funding to the Suwannee County Chamber of Commerce, we are providing entrepreneurs with the tools and training they need to become successful leaders in our business communities."

Clemons added that he doesn't want any more hurricanes, but due to the four major hurricanes that struck Florida last year, funding was increased from about $650,000 per year to $5 million this year, thereby enabling the local grant.

Clemons said the Business Enterprise Centers will provide economic support and development and critical technical assistance to small businesses that do not have the experience to prepare, locate and otherwise develop the necessary information and documentation to obtain certifications to participate in federal and state procurement programs. This critical assistance will foster economic growth in the area. One Business Enterprise Center will be located in the offices of the Suwannee County Chamber office and will serve eligible Suwannee and Lafayette counties' small businesses. The second will be located in Hamilton County and will provide support to Hamilton and Madison counties.

It took two years for the four counties to apply for and finally get the grant, but all agreed it was worth the wait.

A representative from each county commission in the four counties was present, including Suwannee County Commissioner Ivie Fowler, Lafayette County Commissioners Gayle Garrard and Charles Driver, Madison Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Pam Arnold, Live Oak Mayor Sonny Nobles, Sen. Bill Nelson's aide Lynn Bannister of Tallahassee, an aide representing US Congressman Allen Boyd, USDA's Ellen Boukari, HUD Retention and Expansion Consultant Pam Rimes, an aide representing US Senator Mel Martinez, Suwannee County Chamber of Commerce Chairman Coy Howell, Suwannee County Council for Progress President Jerry Martin, USDA's Steve Dicks and others.

USDA Rural Development is committed to the future of rural communities and is the lead federal entity for rural development needs and administers financial and technical assistance through Rural Housing Programs, Rural Business-Cooperative Programs and Rural Utilities Programs. Further information on USDA Rural Development can be obtained by contacting any USDA Service Center or by visiting USDA's web site at

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