By Adam Czech, USDA Rural Development
When people hear about the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), they usually think of corn fields, barns and silos, or meat inspection. But the 150-year-old federal agency does much more than work with traditional agriculture and food safety.
Under its Rural Development mission area, USDA invests in infrastructure, business development and housing to support and strengthen America’s rural communities. These investments build hospitals and clinics, connect communities to high-speed Internet, help businesses grow and add jobs, modernize water and sewer treatment systems, increase the use of renewable energy and ensure affordable housing opportunities.
“It’s all about creating jobs and building rural communities that are strong and sustainable,” said Colleen Landkamer, USDA Rural Development State Director in Minnesota. “Rural America means a lot more to the overall economy than many people realize. It’s important that we recognize that and continue investing in our rural communities.”
Since 2009, Rural Development has invested about $2.5 billion throughout Minnesota. Several of those investments have occurred in Morrison County.
For example, using a $722,250 Rural Development loan, the historic Our Lady of the Angels Academy building in Little Falls was turned into a 24-unit apartment complex. Before renovation, the building stood vacant since 1974. Now it provides housing for individuals and families living and working in the region.
Through its Intermediary Relending Program, Rural Development provided financing to establish a revolving loan fund managed by Community Development of Morrison County. Since the fund’s establishment, 52 loans have been made to local businesses. As each loan is repaid, additional loans are made to other local businesses that create or save jobs and provide valuable working capital.
The Mid-State Education District in Little Falls used funds from Rural Development’s Distance Learning and Telemedicine program to enhance its groundbreaking interactive television program. The funding allowed Mid-State to upgrade equipment and continue delivering distance learning and non-traditional education services in Morrison County.
More than 200 individuals and families in Morrison County have used Rural Development’s guaranteed and direct home loan programs to achieve home ownership or make essential home repairs since 2009. According to the National Association of Realtors, the sale of an existing median-priced home generates over $58,000 in economic activity. This includes more than $15,000 in direct real estate industry supports, $5,000 in home furnishings, appliances and landscaping and almost $10,000 in stimulated economic activity. New home sales generate even more activity, including construction costs, materials and jobs.
To deliver these programs, Rural Development partners with local governments, nonprofits and private lenders. Financing is delivered through loan guarantees with private lenders, direct loans from USDA to the borrower and some grants. In 2011, about 65 percent of Rural Development funding was delivered using loan guarantees, 29 percent through direct loans and six percent through grants.
According to USDA’s Economic Research Service, most farm households earn the majority of their income off the farm. That makes Rural Development programs even more essential. Farm and non-farm households alike need strong rural communities that provide access to quality healthcare, good schools, high-speed Internet, jobs and modern infrastructure.
“We’re all connected,” Landkamer said. “Rural Development investments provide the capacity necessary for private-sector jobs to flourish in rural areas. By partnering with lenders and other organizations, we’re able to increase access to valuable capital in rural areas and support additional projects in more communities.”
Morrison County is served by the Rural Development office in Cambridge. Anyone interested in learning more about Rural Development home loans, business loans, infrastructure financing or any of Rural Development’s programs can contact the Cambridge office at (763) 689-3354, or visit Rural Development on the Web at www.rurdev.usda.gov/mn.