Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today released a report detailing the tangible results across rural America that stemmed from investments by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Rural Development team in local businesses, community infrastructure, housing and more in 2015.
"Over the past seven years, USDA has made record investments in rural America, including housing, infrastructure, business and nutrition, and 2015 was no exception," Vilsack said. "Through our Rural Development agencies alone, USDA was able to support more than 170,000 projects last year, spurring job creation and improving the quality of life for millions of rural Americans. These investments have helped people secure affordable housing and become first-time homeowners, connected America's remote towns with medical providers and business customers via telecommunications, improved critical water and other community facilities, lowered utility costs for residents and businesses through energy efficiency, bolstered local and regional food systems, and created and expanded small businesses. All of this has helped to strengthen local economies for the farmers, families and businesses who call rural America home, and for all Americans who rely on the food, fuel and goods these communities produce."
USDA Rural Development's 2015 Progress Report provides an overview of activities in 2015 that resulted in nearly $30 billion in investments in rural America. The report includes success stories from every state illustrating the many ways USDA helps finance infrastructure improvements and boosts economic development in rural areas. The Progress Report also highlights the success of the Obama Administration's and Secretary Vilsack's place-based initiatives, Promise Zones and StrikeForce, to address rural areas facing significant economic challenges. These initiatives and the emphasis on Community Economic Development (CED) are the cornerstones of USDA's efforts to combat rural poverty and deliver assistance to rural places most in need of the capacity and funding to jump-start or sustain economic development.
Partnerships with private lenders, non-profit organizations and community-based groups are key to USDA's success in rural areas. For example, USDA is partnering with rural telecommunications utilities to bring high-speed broadband to rural communities. In 2015, people who live in and near Raymondville, Texas, began using fast Internet access at the local library to apply for jobs and file their taxes as a result of a USDA Rural Development loan to the Valley Telephone Cooperative. Adult learners in Raymondville are taking advantage of web-based education programs thanks to their new high-speed Internet service.
Through Rural Development, USDA helped nearly 150,000 families buy, refinance or repair their homes last year. Eleven thousand people lived in affordable apartments as a result of USDA programs to build or provide subsidies for rental housing.
USDA Rural Development programs also provide for a wide range of community needs. More than 21 million rural residents benefitted from USDA support for essential community facilities in 2015. The agency invested $1.8 billion in services such as schools, hospitals, day care centers, first-responder vehicles and equipment and other needs.
USDA provided a $16 million Community Facilities loan to help build a surgical center and health clinic in Wickenburg, Ariz. Construction began in 2015. When the 10,700-square-foot center is finished, it will include two operating rooms, a suite for gastrointestinal procedures, equipment to expand diagnostic capabilities and space to accommodate additional staff and specialists. The project is expected to create nearly 30 much-needed, health care-related jobs in this small community of about 6,300 people.
In 2013, USDA committed to investing up to $50 million in Community Facilities funds by the end of 2016 to develop or improve mental health facilities and services in rural areas. By November 2015, USDA had more than quadrupled that goal in just two years, funding more than $213 million in 80 projects in 34 states.
USDA Rural Development helped more than 12,500 rural businesses through $1.5 billion in loans, loan guarantees and grants last year.
The report also sums up Rural Development investments since 2009. Under President Obama, USDA Rural Development has invested $11 billion in more than 103,000 rural businesses to start or expand their operations; helped more than 1 million rural residents buy homes; funded nearly 7,000 community facilities such as schools, public safety and health care facilities; financed 180,000 miles of new and improved electric transmission and distribution lines; supported 254 broadband projects completed with funds provided through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, bringing high-speed Internet access to nearly 6 million rural residents, 17,500 businesses and 1,900 community facilities; and partnered in many other efforts to improve the economic conditions and quality of life for rural Americans.
President Obama's plan for rural America has brought about historic investment and resulted in stronger rural communities. Under the President's leadership, these investments in housing, community facilities, businesses and infrastructure have empowered rural America to continue leading the way – strengthening America's economy, small towns and rural communities.