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Still Made in Rural America: Steel in California Gold Country

Small town Oroville, California sits on the banks of the Feather River at the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains. It was established to supply the thousands of prospectors headed to Bidwell Bar, one of the first gold rush mines in the state. Today, this community of 16,260 people produces much more than just gold dust.

At the edge of town, what started in 1989 as a backyard blacksmith shop by owners Michael Phulps and Sean Pierce has become a 82-employee steel manufacturing company called Metal Works, thanks to a little help from USDA Rural Development. Fourteen years ago, Metal Works received their first Business & Industry loan guarantee to purchase a 20,000 square foot fabrication shop and office building on a little over 18 acres. Since then, they’ve converted their original 9,400 square foot building to a retail steel shop, and added another 20,000 square foot fabrication shop, burn table, and a modern, high-precision drill and beam line. Now, they’ve leveraged a new Rural Development guaranteed loan to refinance, save tens of thousands of dollars annually, and hire 10 new employees as a direct result of those savings.

Making California and Minnesota a Magnet for New Jobs

While many manufacturing companies provide well-paying jobs and play a vital role in creating vibrant, healthy rural communities, sometimes rural communities may struggle to attract these companies. To help bridge this gap, the Investing in Manufacturing Communities Partnership (IMCP) was created. This Administration-wide effort brings together federal departments and agencies to provide coordinated assistance to communities to become more attractive for manufacturers.

Recently, USDA hosted two IMCP events in Minnesota and California with diverse audiences of about 120 stakeholders representing manufacturing businesses, lenders, economic development organizations, universities and community colleges, small businesses development centers, and local leaders among others. At both meetings, USDA Rural Business-Cooperative Service Administrator Lillian Salerno led panels of federal partners that discussed the initiative and sought input on the needs of local manufacturers.

Rural America at a Glance

Each year our agency, USDA’s Economic Research Service, produces a six-page brochure packed with information on social and economic conditions in rural areas of the nation. This information is particularly useful for agencies that develop policies and programs to assist rural areas. We recently released the 2010 edition, which focuses on the rural economy, including employment trends and demographics.