During my trip to Kentucky, I was truly gratified to see Rural Development’s footprint throughout small towns spread across all regions of the Commonwealth. From water lines, broadband networks, wastewater treatment plants, single and multi-family housing, electric lines, senior centers, hospitals and small businesses, Rural Development helps build communities from the ground up working in partnership with local groups.
Last year, 73 Kentucky counties enduring some of the state’s toughest economic challenges were designated to receive targeted USDA support through USDA’s StrikeForce for Rural Growth and Opportunity Initiative. Soon thereafter, President Obama designated a region of eight counties in the state’s southeast corner as one of the country’s first five Promise Zones. Under these designations, USDA works with local partners to leverage federal resources to address the area’s chronic poverty challenges and improve the overall quality of life in the region.
For example, in Russell county, Superior Battery faced fierce competition, a disastrous plant fire and a severe economic recession over the past three decades. Like any business hoping to stay competitive, Superior was looking to grow, while also improving the economic climate in their community. Superior Battery received a USDA Business and Industry Guaranteed Loan allowing the company to finance efficiency improvements and expand market opportunities. The effort has helped Superior Battery save more than 160 jobs and create 25 much-needed new positions in the area.
Peoples Rural Telephone Cooperative in Jackson county is using USDA’s Broadband Initiatives Program to build a state-of-the-art, fiber-to-the-premise network that offers isolated rural residents the same economic, educational and social opportunities available to residents in urban areas.
The Knox County hospital is using USDA’s Community Facilities program for facility improvements at the Barbourville location. This investment will increase medical care in the region and secure more than 200 jobs.
Today, Secretary Vilsack announced a USDA investment of $2.5 million for a new Rural Child Poverty Nutrition Center. Located at the University of Kentucky, Lexington, and in partnership with the Altarum Institute and the southern Rural Development Center, the new Center will use cutting-edge solutions in child nutrition to reduce child food insecurity in states with the highest number of persistently poor rural counties, including Kentucky.
The Secretary also announced that as of today, USDA’s StrikeForce teams have expanded into Oklahoma and the island of Puerto Rico to serve 880 of our country’s most economically challenged rural areas in 21 states and the island Commonwealth. The next round of Promise Zone regions will be announced later this spring.
Each one of these investments made in Kentucky and in rural communities under these initiatives is an investment in our country’s future.