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Innovation Stories

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Technical Assistance Makes USDA’s Water Infrastructure Application Process Easier

Does your local community know how to apply for a rural water infrastructure loan? USDA offers technical assistance providers who can help your community understand the application process from start to finish.

Rita Clary, a Kansas-based Rural Water Circuit Rider recently helped the city of Gridley apply for and receive a $21,000 SEARCH grant—Special Evaluation Assistance for Rural Communities and Households— under USDA's Water and Environmental Programs. The SEARCH grant funds are being used to develop feasibility studies, design and technical assistance for proposed water and waste disposal projects. As a result of the SEARCH grant funding and the continuing technical assistance being provided by Clary, Gridley is now working with Clary to complete engineering requirements for a proposed wastewater project.

Clary has helped more than 30 rural Kansas water systems apply for USDA’s water and wastewater infrastructure financing. She’s also helping 25 water and wastewater systems in Puerto Rico apply for funding that will be used to rebuild the Commonwealth after last year’s devastating hurricane.

Currently, Clary and her colleague Charlie Schwindamann are working with a rural community in the southeastern Kansas to help its water system obtain financial assistance and to meet state environmental requirements.

Clary and Schwindamann are representatives of circuit riders nationwide who provide technical assistance to improve rural water infrastructure. Through the circuit rider program, rural water system officials can request operational, financial or managerial assistance from USDA Rural Development (RD). In addition, RD staff may request assistance on a system’s behalf.

The expertise USDA provides under the circuit rider program helps rural communities determine a project’s scope, define details, and assist with available financing.

For more information on how circuit riders can help your rural community, please contact your state USDA Rural Development office.

 

 
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Critical Infrastructure Supports Next Generation of Tribal Leaders in Central Oregon

A partnership spanning two decades between USDA Rural Development (RD) and the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation in central Oregon has helped finance critical infrastructure across the reservation leading to a number of transformative projects focused on e-Connectivity and education.

When the Warm Springs Tribe used a Community Connect Grant to build a small-fiber network more than 15 years ago, it established the foundation for the community to build a more prosperous future. The grant supported access to e-Connectivity and the construction of a technology center. Broadband access to the tribe’s Health and Wellness Center, Community Counseling Center, schools and administration buildings expanded opportunity and helped close the digital divide.

In the following years of this investment, RD facilitated resources to conduct a feasibility study for a telecommunications company and to develop online entrepreneurial opportunities for tribal businesses. These investments laid the groundwork to incorporate Warm Springs Telecommunications Company (WSTC), the ninth tribally-owned telecommunications company in the nation. Building on this success, RD supported the company’s construction of a fiber and fixed wireless network that provided high-speed broadband access to the 644,000-acre reservation.

The rural community was now self-sustained in its e-Connectivity infrastructure and the next step to furthering future prosperity was to focus investment in education. RD and the Jefferson County School District 509-J supported the construction of Warm Springs Academy, a state-of-the-art school for the next generation of tribal leaders.

E-connectivity has continued to expand opportunity in the community’s rural workforce providing broadband access to a fiscal year 2017 RD-funded small business incubator. The incubator will provide emerging tribal entrepreneurs with low-cost space and access to affordable utilities to help grow their businesses. The overall project is expected to help create 25 new businesses and 60 new jobs over five years.

Now in 2018, every child born in the Warm Springs Reservation will benefit from e-Connectivity access, a high-quality education and expanded opportunity. This lasting partnership between RD and the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation has supported a community directly focused on investing in itself, its tribal members and its future generations.

 

 
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Rural Development Hosts First-Ever OneRD National Lender Forum

In June, Assistant to the Secretary for Rural Development Anne Hazlett convened lender and financial partners at the Rural Development National Lender Forum to strengthen public-private partnerships and expand access to capital in rural communities using a OneRD approach.

USDA Deputy Secretary Stephen Censky, Rural Development agency administrators and other senior program executives joined Hazlett to share ideas on how to better co-finance rural economic development needs by strengthening collaboration with lending partners.

The Rural Development Innovation Center organized and facilitated this event to enable a diversity of lender partners to begin strategic dialogue on issues of mutual interest. Participant ideas included:

  • establishing creative financing;
  • streamlining regulation;
  • modernizing processes and;
  • developing joint education and outreach of program resources

The Innovation Center will use these ideas to inform future solutions that support USDA’s priorities in improving customer experience. The forum will help drive additional public-private partnerships that increase opportunity to leverage resources that maximize limited financing.

The forum included representatives from National Cooperative Bank, credit unions, community banks, state-regulated bond banks, mortgage lenders, capital markets, community development financial institutions, and Farm Credit systems such as CoBank.