As part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's ongoing efforts to boost opportunity in rural communities, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack awarded six low-interest rate loans to local governments and community organizations that will spur rural economic development in five states. Vilsack announced the awards at the Legislative Conference of the National Association of Counties during a seminar with the White House Rural Council.
"These loans will improve rural economies by providing capital to small and emerging businesses," Vilsack said. "Access to capital is too often the missing link that stands between success and failure for many businesses. This funding will help ensure that emerging rural businesses will have the resources they need to grow and prosper."
USDA is awarding $3.5 million in loans through the Intermediary Relending Program (IRP). IRP provides 1%, low-interest rate loans to intermediaries that re-lend money to businesses and for community development projects in rural areas. These projects create jobs and help stem rural out-migration.
One of the projects, Nodaway County Economic Development Inc. in Maryville, Mo., has been selected for a $425,000 IRP loan. Plans are to expand a revolving loan fund that provides financing for small businesses in a high-poverty area in rural northwestern Missouri. The projects assisted with the fund are expected to create up to 50 jobs.
The other five recipients are:
- Palm Beach County Department of Economic Sustainability, West Palm Beach. $1,000,000. To finance economic development projects in rural areas, primarily for low- and moderate-income businesses and underrepresented groups.
- Small Business Access Partners, Inc., Gainesville. $1,000,000. To provide low-interest loans for business and community development in rural counties.
- Natural Capital Investment Fund, Chapel Hill. $364,104. To provide low-interest loans to public and non-profit organizations for small business and community development.
- East Texas Regional Development Corporation, Kilgore. $500,000. To provide low-interest loans for business and community development in rural, underserved areas in Texas. This loan is expected to create 10 jobs.
- Lift Fund, Inc., San Antonio. $222,364. To create a revolving loan fund that can benefit all counties in Texas. This loan is expected to create 33 jobs.
Four of the recipients receiving awards are partners in USDA's StrikeForce for Rural Growth and Opportunity initiative. The East Texas Regional Development Corp. serves the StrikeForce counties of Camp, Cherokee and Marion. Georgia's Small Business Access Partners, Inc. serves the StrikeForce counties of Wilkes and Taliaferro. Palm Beach County in Florida, served by the Department of Economic Sustainability, is a StrikeForce County. Nearly half the 100 counties in North Carolina are served by StrikeForce. USDA launched StrikeForce in 2010 to address persistent poverty across America. USDA staff work with state, local and community officials to increase awareness of USDA programs and help build program participation through intensive community outreach and technical assistance.
The impact of many Intermediary Relending Program loans is immediate. In 2015, Champion Community Investments (CCI) used a loan financed through the IRP program to expand the Robin's Nest Learning Center in Carterville, Ill. Today, it is southern Illinois's largest infant and toddler learning and care facility. CCI is a non-profit economic development agency based in Du Quoin, Ill. USDA Rural Development has partnered with CCI since 2006 to grow local businesses and create or save jobs in economically distressed communities in southern Illinois. McPherson Automotive in Du Quoin, Ill., also benefitted from IRP financing last year. This family-owned business expanded its operations through the program.