At the White House Rural Forum convened this week at Pennsylvania State University, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced $32 million in loans and grants that will promote economic development and provide access to broadband in more than 80 rural American communities. Vilsack, who is chair of the first-ever White House Rural Council, convened the forum with rural policy, business and nonprofit leaders to discuss pertinent issues facing rural communities, including opportunities for economic growth and strategies for improving health care and housing.
“This funding will provide much-needed capital and bring cutting-edge technology to rural communities across the country,” Vilsack said. “Investments in our rural businesses and communities, coupled with extending high-speed broadband, have led to a resurgence of economic development, created jobs and improved the quality of life in rural America. While we have made great progress, our work to extend capital and technology to rural America is not done.”
Significant gains have been made across rural America: Rural household income climbed 3.4 percent in 2015, overall poverty and food insecurity fell dramatically, rural populations have begun to rebound, non-metro areas have added more than 250,000 jobs since 2014, and the share of rural Americans without health insurance is now at an all-time low.
The White House Rural Council, established by President Obama in 2011, coordinates the Administration’s efforts in rural America by streamlining and improving the effectiveness of federal programs, engaging stakeholders on priority issues, and coordinating private-sector partnerships to create economic opportunity and improve the quality of life.
With this funding, USDA is investing in 86 projects through the Rural Economic Development Loan and Grant program, the Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program, the Intermediary Relending Program, the Rural Business Development Grant Program and the Community Connect program.
Examples of funded projects in Michigan include:
- Watertown Township in Fostoria will receive a $40,000 Rural Business Development Grant to replace sidewalks and steps in the business block.
- The Alliance for Economic Success in Manistee will receive a $35,000 Rural Business Development Grant to complete a detailed economic and community development strategy for the US 31 Corridor in Manistee County.
- The Economic Development Alliance for Oscoda County in Comins will receive a $57,000 Rural Business Development Grant to provide technical assistance at Skyline Event Center.
At the Rural Forum, Vilsack also announced that more than $3 billion has been invested since 2014 into rural infrastructure projects through a public-private partnership with Capitol Peak Asset Management and CoBank, a national cooperative bank and member of the Farm Credit System. Since USDA initiated the partnership, the private-sector funding has helped finance more than 400 projects in the power, water, communications and community facilities industries.
Finally, Vilsack announced the continuation of the Rural Integration Models for Parents and Children to Thrive (Rural IMPACT) demonstration project that was launched last year. Rural IMPACT helps communities adopt a two-generation approach to addressing the needs of vulnerable children and their parents. Its goal is to increase parents’ employment and education and improve the health and well-being of their children and families.
Rural IMPACT is led by the Department of Health and Human Services in collaboration with USDA, the Department of Labor, the Corporation for National and Community Service, the Appalachian Regional Commission, the Delta Regional Authority, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and other philanthropic partners. These partners have selected 10 local and tribal communities to receive technical assistance and capacity-building resources to reduce child poverty, and placed AmeriCorps VISTA members there. The partners are pleased to announce these member will be placed in the 10 Rural IMPACT communities for a second year.
Since 2009, USDA Rural Development (@USDARD) has invested nearly $13 billion to start or expand nearly 112,000 rural businesses; helped bring high-speed Internet access to nearly 6 million rural residents and businesses; helped 1.1 million rural residents buy homes; and funded nearly 9,200 community facilities such as schools, public safety and health care facilities. USDA also has invested $31.3 billion in 963 electric projects that have financed more than 185,000 miles of transmission and distribution lines serving 4.6 million rural residents. For more information, visit www.usda.gov/results.