County and community leaders in Oklahoma are invited to apply now for the Stronger Economics Together program, a national initiative that could have a big impact across the state.

Offered through the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development and the Regional Rural Development Centers, SET is designed to help rural counties and communities work together to create a blueprint for enhanced economic development in their region.

SET assists communities in thinking beyond their city and county limits, and encourages them to build the relationships and working partnerships necessary to fuel regional projects, said Dave Shideler, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension community development specialist.

“In order for economic development to be successful, you need a critical mass of people, resources and sometimes land. If you’re not willing to think about these issues in a regional context, you’re going to miss out on some opportunities,” Shideler said. “SET gives counties the framework and tools to successfully work through that process.”

This is the second time Oklahoma will participate in the SET program. Currently, 10 counties are participating in Phase III of the program. Beckham, Custer, Washita and Caddo counties make up one region, while a second region includes LaFlore, McCurtain, Haskell, Latimer, Pushmataha and Choctaw counties.

“Community leaders are realizing a plan of action is essential to a regional economic development effort,” said Ryan McMullen, Oklahoma Director of USDA Rural Development. “This initiative uses the expertise of USDA and Cooperative Extension to help communities bring together the knowledge, skills and resources necessary to put a plan into action.”

The nine-month program includes nine coaching sessions covering an overview of the region and participating counties, team building exercises and an intensive study of the region’s economic climate and potential resources.

The final two sessions focus on creating a strategic plan the region can put into action.

Regions successfully completing the program and a voluntary review process may qualify for a $5,000 grant to help seed part of their plans.

Additionally, participating regions will have access to 40 hours of technical assistance from the SET coaching team made up of professionals from state and federal agencies, OSU, Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service and other public and private organizations.

Communities that go through SET and have a regional plan in place tend to be in a much better position to earn grants and other types of support to address needs they have identified. For instance, USDA Rural Development has funded a number of projects related to SET regions.

“As a result of participating in SET, we hope relationships are built across communities, counties and organizations that will create bridges to some new, exciting and powerful partnerships that have the potential to empower the region to take control of its future,” Shideler said.

Eligible regions must include three or more rural counties that are adjacent to one another. Additional criteria for eligibility may be found in the application, which is available online at (scroll down to Oklahoma).

Completed applications should be emailed to McMullen (, by June 24. For more information, contact McMullen at 405-742-1000 or Shideler at 405-744-6170 or