If there's a pinnacle of pride I have in our USDA Rural Development staff, it's their ability to work with rural communities and our public and private partners to be a positive force for transformation in cities and towns across the country. For my #HighFive to our staff at Headquarters and in field offices across the nation and territories, I want to highlight five projects that have transformed rural communities.
In west Tennessee, contaminated groundwater and the lack of a public water treatment facility were causing health concerns and uncertainty for the residents of Springville and Sandy Beach, and they had few affordable options for addressing these serious issues. With investment from USDA Rural Development and other federal and state partners, the communities now share nearly 30 miles of water distribution lines and a new tank that provide clean, safe, and reliable water to the area.
Further north, USDA Rural Development investment will mean that the nearly century-old Alaskan native village of Lower Kalskag will have indoor plumbing for the first time in its history, forever banishing the 5-gallon buckets used currently as toilet facilities. Only accessible by plane or boat, a third of Lower Kalskag’s population lives below the poverty line. Our funding will support critical health and sanitation improvements for this native Alaskan community.
With a $91 million USDA Rural Development loan, a vacant portion of an Ontario, Ohio shopping mall formerly occupied by a department store will be transformed into a state-of-the-art hospital, including a 22-bed emergency room, Intensive Care unit, inpatient beds, surgical suites, radiology, and 350 new jobs for the community. The new Avita Health system will vastly improve access to quality health care for thousands of residents in north central Ohio.
In Somerset, Pennsylvania, investment by a local lender with support from USDA Rural Development allowed DeVilbiss Healthcare to relocate its manufacturing operations from overseas in China back to the United States. Now, high-end medical devices are being built in southwestern Pennsylvania, and the community benefits from the jobs and taxes paid by a dedicated employer that contributes positively to the local and regional economy.
The Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota has been a special focus of our efforts through our Promise Zone and Strikeforce initiatives – and for good reason. Persistent poverty and a lack of infrastructure investment has taken its toll on the region, and with support from a number of USDA Rural Development programs, as well as other public and private funding, the Thunder Valley Community Development Corporation is leading the construction of an attractive, healthy, supportive community with safe and affordable housing, commercial development, a small farm, a youth center, and more.
USDA Rural Development truly does have a transformative impact on rural communities across the nation, and as I reflect on 2015, I am proud of the accomplishments of my staff – as well as the relationships we've fostered with public and private groups to leverage our investments. I'm excited to continue this transformational work in 2016.