Have you ever been on vacation, but just couldn’t get away from your work? Me too. It seems everywhere I look I see the footprint of USDA Rural Development and its ties to rural revitalization. Because I love my job and the good work USDA is doing, I am thrilled each and every time I see the results of this collaborative work to stimulate economies, modernize infrastructure, and enhance the quality of life in rural America.
As I write this, I am preparing for a vacation that will take me across the United States by car from Eugene, Oregon, to Alexandria, Virginia – from the West Coast to the East Coast, across the heartland. As a Rural Development State Director, I am intimately familiar with the good work I can expect to see in Oregon. I will have the pleasure of driving through the central part of the state, where so many families were able to access safe housing and affordable mortgages thanks to our programs. In all, we helped nearly 11,000 families across Oregon to purchase or repair their homes over the past four years. Farther east, I will pass by Harney Hospital, the only critical care provider serving a 10,000-square-mile area. The hospital district recently moved into a modern facility and also added much-needed diagnostic and patient care equipment and technology with the help of more than $13 million in Community Facilities Rural Development financing. Continuing into the southeast section of the state, I will see a number of solar arrays installed by farmers and small businesses through the Rural Energy for America Program to generate additional income while reducing the Nation’s dependence on foreign oil and increasing our domestic economic vitality.
Of course, these are just a few of the many examples of how more than 40 USDA Rural Development programs have helped Oregon communities, residents and businesses develop and implement place-based, locally led efforts to revitalize rural economies. In fact, if you know what you’re looking for, it is nearly impossible to visit any corner of rural Oregon without seeing the lasting benefits of this work.
As I travel nearly 3,000 miles across the country this week, I look forward to seeing more evidence of how our programs have supported growth and prosperity throughout rural America. Nationwide last year, USDA Rural Development helped almost 10,000 rural small business owners and farmers improve their business operations and save or create an estimated 53,000 jobs. In that same time frame, we provided millions with new or improved water or wastewater services. In addition, our programs provided broadband access to nearly 64,000 rural residents who can now participate in the global economy and take advantage of Internet-based education and health care opportunities. More than 270,000 low- and very low-income families were able to live in safe, affordable apartments with USDA Rural Development rental assistance. Finally, (and perhaps the most easily identified from a moving vehicle) the Agency last year supported the installation of more than 1,600 renewable energy facilities, including wind turbines, small hydropower generators, geothermal systems, solar arrays, and anaerobic digesters across the country.
When I return from my journey, I look forward to sharing with you some thoughts on how a cross section of the rural American landscape has been enhanced by the innovative rural leaders, organizations and residents who collaborate with USDA Rural Development. I’ll file a follow-up blog later this month.
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I agree, RD does some great work around the country. I think that additional consideration and expertise is needed in rural communities to do better planning of community infrastructure projects so that they don't lead to conversion of farmland. We need to continue to find ways to reuse and redevelop, and promote sustainable development patterns as we use federal funds to assist rural communities. In addition, in some areas rural communities and landowners are unable to participate in RD programs due to an antiquated definition separating "rural" from "urban".