WAYNE COUNTY—Wayne County is set to receive $135,000 in Rural Development Grants from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) for two economy-minded projects.

Wayne County was awarded $34,767 to conduct a feasibility study for a new local dairy processing plant aimed to bolster the $18 million economic engine that is the area's dairy industry.

As earlier reported, the feasibility study is a recommendation resulting from the Wayne County Agricultural Development Plan created last year.

Through the Wayne Tomorrow! initiative, the county Commissioners, the Wayne Economic Development Corporation (WEDCO), and other public/private partners enlisted the services of consultant Philip Gottwals to review the local dairy industry and develop a plan to reinvigorate it.

One potential solution involves diversification of the revenue stream through a local production facility, the subject of the now-funded feasibility study.

“Not that long ago, we had 1,500 dairy farms in Wayne County; we now have less than 50,” Brian Smith, Chairman of the Wayne County Commissioners’ Office, said in a press release.

“We feel confident that the study will reveal a fantastic opportunity to re-establish a very important part of our local agricultural economy, ensure the existence and sustainability of our local farms, and allow our next generation of farmers to produce food, that ultimately provides for our national security through a secure domestic food supply.”

For the second, separate, grant, WEDCO was awarded $99,999 to expand natural gas services in Waymart Borough and Canaan Township.

The utility expansion project along Route 296, Honesdale Road, and to Railroad Lane is expected to bring natural gas to 47 residential parcels, two churches, eight businesses and 29 acres of developable land within the Waymart Area Authority.

“The extension of natural gas distribution lines within Canaan Township and the Borough of Waymart will improve the resiliency of these rural communities,” said WEDCO Executive Director Mary Beth Wood in a press release.

“The USDA grant is an important financial piece to making the overall project work. We are grateful to our federal legislators and to the USDA Rural Development for their support in making this investment in Wayne County.”

Wood explained in a later interview this funding, combined with two state grants previously acquired, will facilitate construction on the distribution line for natural gas expansion.

UGI Utilities, the supplier performing the expansion, is in the process of obtaining engineering estimates and necessary permitting, said Wood. Construction could start as early as September.

The next step after that, she said, is to work with UGI and USDA Rural Development to find ways to help consumers looking to utilize the service do so as affordably as possible.

In being awarded these two competitive grants through Rural Development, “The collaboration going on in the county is being recognized,” said Wood.

The combined efforts of local officials, private industry and other organizations, “is why we're seeing these grants come into the county,” she said.

“Both projects are foundational pieces moving the economy forward.”

Funding for these two projects is awarded through the USDA's Rural Business Enterprise Grant program, “which finances or facilitates the growth of small and emerging businesses in rural areas,” states a press release.

This program was established through the American Recover and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

Announcing the awards Friday afternoon, Congressman Matt Cartwright (D, PA-8) stated in a press release, “This award will build on Wayne County’s careful planning for agricultural development and will bolster our goal of growing family-sustaining jobs in Northeastern Pennsylvania.”

A member of the House Appropriations Committee, Cartwright added, “The dairy industry is a vital part of the local economy in Wayne County; it is a deep part of our community’s way of life, culture, and history. I’ll keep advocating for these kinds of federal investments, which help farmers and small businesses in rural communities.”

Curt Coccodrilli, State Director for USDA Rural Development said in a press release the organization “...is proud to fund this study for the County of Wayne and help WEDCO fund residential and commercial access to natural gas infrastructure in rural communities.”

He added, “This type of funding may lead to hundreds of new jobs and is the essence of what USDA Rural Development can do to identify and bolster economic development in an area of Pennsylvania that needs it most. Together, America Prospers.”

—Information from a release was used in this story.