In 1995, two United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) revitalization Rural Economic Area Partnership (REAP) Zones were created in southwestern and north-central North Dakota. They were created to address critical issues related to out-migration, constraints in economic activity and growth, low density settlement patterns, stagnant or declining employment and isolation that led to disconnection from markets, suppliers and centers of information and finance.

The two North Dakota REAP Zones were called the Southwest REAP Zone and CONAC (Center of North America Coalition for Rural Development) and implemented through a Memoranda of Agreement signed between the Zones, U.S. Senator Byron Dorgan and USDA Rural Development. The pilot project established a collaborative and citizen-led effort to enhance economic development in the two REAP Zones. The final MOA expired in September of 2012. However, set-asides in certain USDA Rural Development programs (i.e., RBEG, housing, etc.) may still be offered.
Collaboratively, this structure has provided assistance, support and funding in the following areas:

  • Housing
  • Information technology
  • Educational technology equipment
  • Created the CONAC Capital Fund
  • Rural leadership programs
  • Value-added agriculture
  • Community strategic planning
  • Federal procurement assistance information
  • Small business development
  • Trades education
  • Youth entrepreneurship
  • Collaborative tourism efforts

  In 1999, SW REAP and CONAC established a joint 501©3 non-profit called the REAP Investment Fund, Inc. The board is comprised of four members from each zone and a member at-large. Its purpose is to be the non-profit arm of the designated zones and to handle the funds of the zones on a regional level.   In addition, the charter of the REAP Investment Fund, Inc. was established to have statewide coverage to address partnerships outside the two REAP Zones. Its primary concern is the economic and community development of two REAP Zones. Over the past 19 years, the Zones received federal earmarked funds through the efforts of the Congressional delegation which assisted in the creation of a number of programs and projects. In addition, the structure of the Zones has complemented successful project collaborations with supports and funding through nonfederal sources including local and state funding and foundation partnerships.   Each zone operates a micro lending program with loans under $10,000. These unsecured loans have assisted over 100 rural businesses transition to new ownership, start-up and/or expansion within the zones. These funds have been “revolved” to continue the program. In addition, the REAP Investment Fund operates a revolving loan fund providing up to $50,000 to Zone businesses at favorable terms.