US WEST Communications plans to spend $6 million over the next three years to assist communities and small businesses in 14 states to better compete "at the international level."

The company plans to provide marketing expertise, management assistance and limited loans, including some targeted at women-owned and minority-owned businesses, as part of the initiative.Dick McCormick, company president and chief executive officer, announced the program during a World Trade Day observance in Denver.

The rural economic independence initiative will be administered through the Denver-based US WEST Foundation, which also oversees a $23 million general grants program and a $26 million program for educational initiatives.

"Through the US WEST Foundation, we'll be doing our part to stimulate a rural renaissance in the American West," McCormick said.

Robert C. Fuehr, US WEST's Utah vice president, said the company will look at proposals from community development organizations for grassroots efforts to develop rural economies by developing local businesses and local leadership. Fuehr said the Kellogg Foundation has indicated interest in participating in the program, especially in the area of developing local leadership.

In addition to Utah, US WEST serves all or part of Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Iowa, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Washington and Wyoming.