"We want every rural community in America to know what you have done," the President told the enthusiastic crowd.
Mr. Clinton was here to push his New Markets Initiative, an effort to encourage private investment in poor areas through tax credits and other incentives. He cited the Hermitage Tomato Co-operative as an example of how government, business and small farmers can work together to beat the odds.
"Now you can have a life here in this part of our state and you can prove that people can make a living in rural America and do something good" Mr. Clinton said.
The co-operative was born in 1996, when 15 local tomato farmers on the edge of bankruptcy pooled their resources. Today, Randy Clanton manages the cooperative.
"Our farmers were virtually dying on the vine," Clanton recalls. "They had to come up with an idea for survival."
With a government-guaranteed loan from a local bank they built a processing plant, and with help from the Department of Agriculture, they found a major buyer for their product--Burger King.
As Randy Clanton explains, "What the cooperative did for the farmers was give them a collective unit whereby they could seek new opportunities in the marketplace."
The co-op doubled production and increased employment. Now small farmers like Knoxie Hall can compete with major domestic and foreign producers.
"I think it's gonna help the farmers be able to survive, survive longer... to be able to help the economy expand growth in this community and other communities." says Hall.
In an effort to broaden that success, the President and the Speaker of the House today announced they were forming a partnership, a bipartisan alliance to push the New Markets Initiative. The President believes that in an economy this good, if it's not done now, it will never get done.