Bangor, Dec. 15, 2023 – This week USDA Rural Development Maine State Director Rhiannon Hampson met with local officials and business leaders in the Oxford County town of Rumford. Director Hampson was there to celebrate recent USDA awards and to learn about emerging economic development opportunities in the area. She toured the 60 Lowell Street LLC property (future site of a boutique hotel) and then joined a roundtable discussion at the Town Hall. Town Manager Stacy Carter, Economic Development Director George O’Keefe, representatives of the state’s congressional delegation, and a dozen local business leaders participated.
In opening the roundtable discussion, Director Hampson noted that, “critical infrastructure is the foundation for success in rural Maine. Basic needs must be met for communities to thrive.” As the participants at the Town Hall roundtable introduced themselves, many mentioned different types of federal funding that had indeed affected local infrastructure. Several were recent recipients of USDA Rural Development funds, including:
- 60 Lowell Street LLC secured a $500,000 Rural Energy for America Program grant to install a hydronic heat pump system with heat recovery for heating and cooling at the Lowell St. mill redevelopment. The energy-efficient system will service the 4-story, 65,000-square-foot structure that the company intends to develop into a 35-room hotel with amenities such as a café, restaurant, and pool.
- Regional School Unit No. 10 (Rumford) will use its $982,191.00 Distance Learning and Telemedicine grant to equip sites in Oxford and Franklin counties with interactive video-conferencing equipment and other resources. Programming will include workforce development, job training, continuing education, and professional development. The project will benefit approximately 3000 students across many campuses.
- Rumford/Mexico Sewerage District which secured an $8.5M Water and Waste Disposal Grant and a $10.77M loan to make major upgrades to the local wastewater treatment facility and pump station. The district had already received a $30K grant to help plan for the necessary upgrades, the district plans to begin soon.
Several themes emerged from the day’s conversations. One recurring topic was the importance of economic diversification. Rumford is an interesting example, boasting energy companies, manufacturing, outdoor recreation facilities, and more. The town’s Economic Development Director, George O’Keefe, emphasized that encouraging a diverse business demographic helps towns like Rumford to provide local services while offering investment opportunities at all levels.
Under the Biden-Harris Administration, USDA Rural Development has invested over $8M in Oxford County to support economic diversification. USDA has awarded grants to food producers, an equine facility, a commercial solar company, outdoor recreation venues, and other businesses. These investments are in addition to more than $11M invested in critical wastewater infrastructure improvements across the county[HM1] and more than$19M in Rumford.
Among the serious challenges facing rural towns are a lack of sufficient housing and childcare options. Acknowledging these and other obstacles, Director Hampson pointed out that, “Maine needs to retain families who have spent generations calling the state home while also attracting new people, fresh perspectives, and emerging businesses. To make this happen, we need the federal government to reinvest in the very people and communities who have spent lifetimes working hard for all of us.”
Toward that end, USDA Rural Development has delivered over $30M in housing dollars to rural Oxford County in the last two fiscal years. Included in that total is one of the agency’s most impactful programs, flexible mortgages for low-income homebuyers. Oxford County residents borrowed more than $5.1M through USDA’s Single Family Housing Direct Home Loans to purchase homes during that period.
For towns like Rumford to continue to thrive, businesses need access to both private and federal capital. Concluding the event, Director Hampson looked ahead to future collaborations, saying, “We are excited to partner with dedicated teams of community leaders and small business owners to explore solutions and opportunities across the state. USDA Rural Development shows up for small town Maine, and it has been a particular pleasure to learn more about this beautiful region.”
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