HONESDALE, PA — There was a clear sense of optimism as leaders of Wayne Tomorrow—Wayne County’s public-private community and economic development group—announced that the U.S. …
HONESDALE, PA — There was a clear sense of optimism as leaders of Wayne Tomorrow—Wayne County’s public-private community and economic development group—announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) had designated Wayne County a “regional community of faith and opportunity.”
“This designation entitles you to custom, tailored technical assistance that will foster hope and opportunity, wealth creation and asset building in your communities,” the acceptance letter reads. “A USDA liaison has been assigned to you and serves as a conduit to appropriate USDA state office staff. Most importantly, this designation expresses our belief in your and your ability to positively change your community.”
The journey to the designation began in the fall of 2019, when Wayne Tomorrow was invited to a Center for Community Prosperity Training Summit at Penn State University. Wayne Tomorrow community network specialist Kim Rickard was one of several presenters and gave an overview of the initiative and the challenges the county and its growth initiative face. Wayne Tomorrow submitted a comprehensive application in July of 2020.
“Wayne Tomorrow is based on collaboration,” executive director of Wayne Economic Development Corporation Mary Beth Wood said, adding that the designation brings both an entitlement and responsibility to act as a leader in the commonwealth. “What this really is, is recognition of the partnerships that are going on within Wayne County and how we’re working together to advance, in a very strategic and direct manner, the community and economic development, education and quality of life within our county.”
Part of the plan is to help communities establish “local prosperity councils” that engage with OneUSDA—a term created by previous ag secretary Sonny Perdue—federal, state, regional organizations and public and private entities to work on overcoming the challenges that rural communities face.
“The liaison will develop and maintain partnerships with key USDA stakeholders to encourage and enhance greater outreach between USDA stakeholders, agencies, and staff offices,” a press release reads.
“When I first read [the eligibility requirements], all I could think was we’re already doing all this, we’re sort of the poster child for this,” digital media specialist Mikki Uzupes said. “When you look at the resources and everything that the federal government put into coming up with what we come up with on a shoestring in this community, one our own—almost everything about Wayne Tomorrow aligns directly with this initiative at the federal level. All the federal dollars and resources that went into developing [the USDA’s plan], we had already come up with it on a grassroots level, on our own.”
In its application, Wayne Tomorrow listed a handful of priority projects that could benefit from the technical expertise of the OneUSDA Team and its partners, including the development of a resilient local food system through the Wayne County Agriculture Innovation Center and a proposed recovery to work ecosystem the county commissioners are hoping to create in partnership with SCI Waymart.
“It’s very exciting,” commissioner Jocelyn Cramer said. “We started out as a think tank and now we’re moving into ‘do tank.’”
The application also targets infrastructure and resiliency through projects like expanding broadband services, development and preparation of industrial spaces to attract higher-wage employers, strategic investment in education infrastructure and programming for post-secondary and career training and addressing rural transportation issues.
Other projects address the need for affordable rental units as well as more upscale rental housing to meet workforce recruitment needs of established and future businesses, and develop a system of community hubs that can strengthen communities by providing opportunities for social interaction, increasing access to resources and utilizing more countywide facilities.