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Alabama Cooperative Extension System-sponsored training targeting Alabama producers adversely affected by unfair trade practices generated an economic impact of almost $7 million for the Alabama economy.
The training was made possible by a Department of Agriculture grant known as the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) for Farmers developed to pay producers of commodities who have been negatively affected by unfair foreign trading practices. The TAA-designated commodities in Alabama are shrimp and catfish, meaning that Alabama producers of these commodities were eligible for training.
To collect the payments, producers were required to attend initial orientation training, business training and write an initial and long-term business plans, according to Rick Zapata, an Alabama Cooperative Extension System regional agent who received more than $93,000 to conduct three phases of the training.
Zapata wrote a 12-hour small business workshop to meet the requirements of the Intensive Business Education facet of the TAA program. His curriculum was approved for use in Alabama by the University of Minnesota, which administered the program nationwide on behalf of USDA. Dr. Carol Centrallo, an Alabama Extension specialist, also developed a personal plan for shrimp and catfish farmers who no longer planned to produce these commodities as well as for deck hands of shrimp producers who were not directly involved in business operations.
More than 100-three hour business training workshops were conducted throughout the state reaching 280 participants, primarily from the Gulf Coast, though participants from Florida, Louisiana and Texas also were reached. All of the participants also completed the initial business plans.
The economic activity generated by the shrimp commodity facet of this training generated an estimated $4,806,253 to the region's economy, while activity generated by the catfish commodity aspect of the training totaled an estimated $1,874,880. The combined economic impact generated by all facets of the training totaled an estimated $6,777,613.
A comprehensive breakdown of the economic effects of this training is featured in a report prepared by Zapata titled Trade Adjustment Assistance for Farmers, 2013 Commodity Report.
Alabama Extension partnered with the Business Support Center in Gulf Shores and Bayou La Batre and Bishop State Community College to reach shrimpers who were leaving their profession and who were seeking training to pursue other occupations. As a result of the training, more than 95 percent of qualified applicants regained employment in the seafood industry, went to work offshore, or obtained other employment. The program also enabled some shrimpers and their spouses who lacked a high school diploma to obtain their GED.
Zapata says one of the most impressive effects of the program was its return on investment.
"Overall, the TAA grant provided $3,303,171 to operate the program," he says. "Subtracting Extension's operating costs of $87,054 while factoring in the multiplier effects, this amounted to return of investment of more than $13.4 million."
"The TAA funds should ensure the viability of the industry in south Alabama for years to come," he says. "Many of the shrimpers I've talked with plan to use their TAA money to invest in capital equipment to continue working in the industry."
The money will also help stabilize the conditions of shrimpers and their families following the effects of the Deep Horizon Oil Spill of 2010. These payments should also benefit local businesses negatively affected as well, according to Zapata.
"Without Alabama Extension's direct involvement in the orientation and training phases of TAA, some of the funds may not have reached as many producers," he says, adding that funds provided to catfish farmers in 15 Alabama counties will also positively affect the economies of their communities."
Aside from the positive economic impacts generated by the program, there have also been positive effects on the producers and their families. Most of the people attending the TAA training workshops had never received formal business education.
"The business topics covered in the training will contribute to the economic viability of both these industries in the years to come," Zapata says. "Many families were not only able to keep their homes from being foreclosed, but also were able to make much-needed capital investments in their operations."
Another positive benefit for ACES is the contact made within the Asian shrimping communities. Dozens of Asian shrimpers attended the small business workshops and their training evaluations were very positive. Before this program, ACES did not have much connection within the Asian fishing communities in south Mobile County.
Zapata says the training would not have been possible without the support of several public and private entities, including the City of Bayou La Batre, the Community Action Agency of Mobile, Morgan's Chapel United Methodist Church, Emfinger Center in Bon Secur and Faulkner State Community College in Bay Minette and Gulf Shores.
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