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USDA Results: Rural Economic and Community Development

Since 2009, USDA's partnership with America's rural communities has supported the emergence of a more vibrant, diverse rural economy led by makers, creators and innovators. Under the leadership of President Obama and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, USDA has made significant and transformative investments in housing, community facilities, businesses and infrastructure. These investments have empowered rural America to continue leading the way - strengthening America's economy, small towns and rural communities.

Growing Businesses and Supporting Community Development

Since 2009, USDA has:

  • Helped 107,607 rural businesses grow through grant and loan support.
  • Helped more than 1.2 million rural families buy, repair or refinance homes. Many are first-time homeowners.
  • Provided funding for 4,343 multifamily housing developments.
  • Invested in more than 8,350 critical community facilities projects, including 156 public schools, 452 libraries, 1,112 health care facilities, and 3,801 public safety facilities.
  • Leveraged $6.2 billion in third-party funds through public-private partnerships to build or revitalize 85,885 rental housing units in rural communities.
  • Through its Rural Opportunity Investment Initiative, USDA continues to seek out ways to attract private-sector investment to rural America.
    1. In 2014, USDA and its partners announced a new $154.5 million investment Rural Business Investment Company (RBIC) that will help propel the growth of small businesses across rural America. The RBIC will allow private equity investments in agriculture-related businesses, including bio-manufacturing, advanced energy production, local and regional food systems, improved farming technologies and other cutting-edge fields. Since its inception in 2014, the fund has made a total of 11 investments, totaling $39 million. An additional three funds have been conditionally licensed since 2015 and three more are currently under review.
    2. In 2014, USDA launched a public-private partnership with Capitol Peak Asset Management and CoBank, a national cooperative bank and member of the Farm Credit System. Designed to facilitate the flow of capital to infrastructure projects in rural America, the U.S. Rural Infrastructure Opportunity Fund included a commitment by CoBank to use up to $10 billion of its balance sheet capacity to lend and co-lend in support of fund-related projects. Since the fund's inception, CoBank has lent more than $3 billion to over 400 financings of projects in the power, water, communications and community facilities industries.

Investing in Critical Infrastructure

Since 2009, USDA has:

  • Improved the availability of quality health care and education in rural America by investing in more than 8,283 educational and health care facilities through the Distance Learning and Telemedicine Program.
  • Helped expand the availability of high-speed internet service to rural Americans by investing more than $6.9 billion in loans and grants in more than 1,200 projects to expand broadband service in rural areas. These investments will provides access to state-of-the-art health care, educational and cultural resources, and give rural businesses the connectivity they need to compete in the global economy.
  • Improved and modernized rural electric infrastructure that serves more than 5.5 million rural residents and businesses and funded more than 185,000 miles of electric line. In addition, we implemented the Rural Energy Savings Program to provide energy efficiency loans to lower energy bills for rural families and businesses reduce barriers to investment in energy efficiency projects. Our strategic investments in smart grid technology and air quality improvement technologies will improve electric system operations and reduce electric utility emissions.
  • Helped provide improved water and wastewater services to nearly 19 million rural residents by investing $13.3 billion in 5,592 projects.

Promoting New Strategies for Economic Growth

The latest data (PDF, 3.4MB) indicate a rural America on the road to recovery. Rural employment has increased; rural population decline did not increase over the past year, and some rural counties have seen population growth; and the rural child poverty rate has declined by one percentage point. These trends are promising, but still, 6.2 million rural Americans are living in poverty, including 1.5 million children. In far too many places, these high rates of poverty have persisted for generations. Despite unprecedented investments, rural access to critical health and social services often lags behind that in urban and suburban areas. One in four children in rural America live in households that don't know where their next meal is coming from, or are forced to buy cheaper, less healthy foods. USDA continues to invest in innovative strategies that address the unique needs of rural and Tribal areas and drive economic growth, upward mobility and self-sufficiency.

  • Despite USDA's investments, there are parts of rural America where persistent poverty remains. In fact, nearly 85 percent of America's persistent poverty counties are in rural areas. In order to address the challenges faced by those communities and help them prosper, in 2010, USDA established the StrikeForce for Rural Growth and Opportunity Initiative, a broad commitment to grow economies, increase investments and create opportunities in poverty-stricken rural communities through intensive outreach and stronger partnerships with community organizations. Through StrikeForce, USDA has partnered with community organizations, businesses, foundations, universities and other groups, ushering in nearly $23.5 billion in investments in high-poverty areas of rural America.
  • Recognizing that every child, no matter where she or he is born, should have an opportunity to succeed, the White House Rural Council launched Rural IMPACT, a cross-agency effort led by the Department of Health and Human Services and USDA that takes a two-generation approach to reducing poverty and increasing upward mobility in rural and tribal communities. The Rural IMPACT demonstration focuses on the promise of engaging entire families in evidence-based programs and services, from early childhood education and healthcare to postsecondary education and workforce development.
  • The University of Kentucky Center for Poverty ResearchThis is an external link or third-party site outside of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) website. and USDA recently launched a research program to better understand the relationships between SNAP, food security and health (PDF, 158KB). UK and USDA also established the National Rural Child Poverty Nutrition CenterThis is an external link or third-party site outside of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) website. to focus on families with children who live in persistently poor counties in 15 states. The goal is to help these families by increasing their participation in USDA's nutrition assistance programs.
  • USDA has also partnered with innovators on five demonstration projects designed to help end childhood hunger, especially among rural children, funded through the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act.
  • In his 2013 State of the Union Address, President Obama announced the launch of the Promise Zone initiative to target federal and private resources to high-poverty urban, rural and tribal communities. Through this initiative, USDA, the Department of Housing and Urban Development and 18 other federal agencies are partnering with and investing in communities to provide tailored assistance based on the specific needs of a community. USDA is leading the effort to provide resources and expertise to the following eight Rural and Tribal Promise Zones: Southwest Florida, Eastern Puerto Rico, the Spokane Tribe, the Turtle Mountain Band of the Chippewa Indians, Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, South Carolina Low Country, Southeastern Kentucky, and Choctaw Nation. The initiative promotes collaboration between private businesses and federal, state and local officials; faith-based and non-profit organizations; and striving kids and parents. The purpose of the initiative is to create jobs, leverage private investment, increase economic activity, expand educational opportunities, increase access to quality, affordable housing and improve public safety. This federal commitment is intended to help these communities break through barriers and navigate through the support available to them.
    1. In the last two years alone, round 1 and round 2 rural Promise Zone designees which represent Southeastern Kentucky, Choctaw Nation, South Carolina Low Country and Pine Ridge Indian Reservation have been awarded $410 million dollars in federal support for local development, much of which has come from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
    2. In early June, Secretary Vilsack and the White House announced four additional Rural and Tribal Promise Zones and five Urban Promise Zones for a total of twenty two Promise Zones, eight of which represent rural and/or tribal communities.