State Appropriates Millions of Dollars for Rural Counties

At-Risk and Distressed Counties Receive Funding to Spark Workforce Development

NASHVILLE – The state of Tennessee will use millions of dollars in grant money to help 38 distressed and at-risk counties across Tennessee bolster workforce development efforts. The funding was approved by the Tennessee Workforce Development Board and aligns with Governor Bill Lee’s rural initiatives.

Lewis County in Southern Middle Tennessee is slated to receive $39,811 for Work-Based Learning, Rural Transportation and Re-Entry for Justice-Involved Individuals (JLL).

The Rural Initiative Funding Opportunity Announcement (RIFOA) has made $3 million in funding available to local workforce development boards to support workforce expansion efforts in the targeted counties.

The Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development (TDLWD) accepted grant applications from the counties and determined the amount of funding each recipient would receive. The state’s 15 distressed counties will split $2.1 million of the $3 million in grant money, with the remaining $900,000 divided among 23 counties deemed at-risk by the state.

“In alignment with the Governor Lee’s priorities for Tennessee, we are excited to be able to make these funds available,” said TDLWD Commissioner Jeff McCord. “These grant dollars will foster the opportunity to develop and maintain a qualified workforce in the places where it is needed most.”

Areas receiving funding in the Southern Middle Tennessee Local Workforce Development Area (LWDA) include Wayne and Perry counties, which the state considers distressed, along with Lewis County, which is at-risk.

The grant money will fund work-based learning, rural transportation, and reentry programs in the Southern Middle LWDA.

“The members of the Tennessee Workforce Development Board want to do everything we can to give the residents in our rural communities the skills that will allow them to help themselves to better job opportunities,” said board chairman Tim Berry. “These grants should provide new resources to which they may not otherwise have access, and provide them another step upward in their livelihoods.”

Tennessee’s distressed and at-risk counties face workforce challenges that do not exist in the state’s urban and metropolitan areas. Often, local leaders in rural counties are forced to navigate workforce obstacles such as geography, demography and high demand for employees, but a low supply of a qualified workforce.

Programs funded by these grants will create greater opportunities for residents in these counties to take part in skills training in high-demand growth sectors. 

Money for the RIFOA comes from the Governor’s reserve of Workforce Innovation and Opportunity (WIOA) funds. TDLWD will provide additional program guidance to the local workforce development boards which receive funding.

For details on county-specific grant amounts and programs, visit the newsroom at

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