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Fulton County included in federal network for rural communities to access government resources

Fulton City Hall
City of Fulton
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Fulton City Hall.

Fulton County is among the first wave of rural communities included in a network created by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to increase access to government resources.

The Rural Partners Network (RPN) is a collaborative effort between federal agencies and localities intended to generate jobs, enhance infrastructure and maintain economic stability. One or more RPN agents will be placed in Fulton County for an indefinite period of time to connect local organizations with relevant federal agencies for funding requests.

“Before, you’d have to go find somebody who could do the grant writing, and you’d float applications up, and you’d sit there for months if not longer wondering if they ever got it, wondering who has it, wondering what they thought about the application, wondering what we had done wrong in the application and what we had done right,” Judge-Executive Jim Martin said.

Fulton-Hickman Counties Economic Development Partnership President Mark Welch and Fulton City Manager Mike Gunn worked alongside Martin to establish the network in their county after learning about it through U.S. Congressman James Comer’s office.

Martin said Fulton was chosen for the network because of its poverty level and growth potential relative to surrounding western Kentucky counties.

“Historically, in rural areas, one of the things that we do wrong is that we put Band-Aids on symptoms, and we never address the real problems,” Martin said. “I think that they perceive that we can accomplish that. It would be useless to give us a bunch of money if we went around spending that money on things that did not contribute to the redevelopment of our economy.”

Mark Welch with the economic development partnership said the network is meant to ensure county organizations with needs spend less time searching and more time making headway in beneficial endeavors.

“It broadens the potential that there is a program or a pot of money or a cadre of experts that can be applied to that issue or issues,” Welch said. “Typically, what happens is you just kind of make stabs at grant programs that you think might be able to address an issue, and there’s a much greater failure rate than success rate on finding monies and programs that meet that need.”

Agents with the network plan to share insights from these communities with federal agencies in Washington, D.C., after which the Rural Prosperity Interagency Policy Council will develop appropriate policies. There are 16 federal agencies and regional commissions participating in this council.

Dustin Wilcox is a television production student at Murray State University. He graduated from Hopkinsville High School in 2019.
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