We're Here to Help

by Colleen Callahan

Local communities get a helping hand and economic boost from USDA Rural Development.

“I’m with the federal government and I’m here to help.” When I say that to an audience at the beginning of a presentation about USDA Rural Development programs, I get the expected response… polite laughter. But after I give examples of the work we do and conclude the presentation with the same line, no one laughs. While I will not get to see the response of those who read this article, I hope it is the same.

USDA Rural Development is here to help. Our investments in rural communities support the rural way of life by being a strong partner for businesses, entrepreneurs and working families. Rural Development’s active loan portfolio of $3.5 billion in Illinois includes support for the following areas:

  1. Regional food systems
  2. Broadband
  3. Biofuel infrastructure
  4. Homeownership
  5. Business development
  6. Community needs.

Business development is a crucial part of what we do. The following examples demonstrate just exactly how Rural Development actively helps create and sustain rural job opportunities and entrepreneurial efforts in rural Illinois communities:

  • Rural Development assisted the community of Elmwood in rebuilding its business district after a tornado virtually destroyed its downtown last June. Through a $99,000 Rural Business Enterprise Grant (RBEG), Elmwood established a revolving loan fund to attract startup businesses to vacant sites in its reclaimed downtown. One of the fund’s first borrowers was Sarah Carter, who opened Sarah’s Friendly True Value earlier this year as Elmwood had lost its previous hardware store when the owner chose not to rebuild after the tornado. “There’s all kinds of business activity in Elmwood now,” says Carter. “Business is booming, even though it’s a risky [economic] time. We needed the help and got it from the Rural Development revolving loan fund, the county and community banks.” Sarah’s Friendly True Value had a grand opening celebration in April, and Sarah expects to open another store in Canton “not even a year later.”
  • Rural Development was able to assist Technical Metals Inc. (TMI) of Fairbury. TMI manufactures and fabricates precision machine parts for industrial and construction machinery. Through Rural Development’s Business and Industry Guaranteed Loan program, TMI’s lender-secured guarantees on two loans for building expansion and new equipment has allowed the company to retain 82 full-time jobs and 18 part-time jobs and hire 51 new employees this year.
  • Rural Development’s Rural Economic Development Loan and Grant Program allows rural utility cooperatives to apply for funds to support specific economic opportunities and essential services in their areas. In June, Eastern Illini Electric Cooperative (EIEC) received a $650,000 loan for 10 years at zero interest. EIEC will use that loan to purchase equipment and build a 1,568-square-foot expansion of a building owned by Illinois-Ohio Properties, LLC near Tuscola. J.L. Allen Company will continue to lease existing space there, as well as utilize the addition. The company is a general contractor that specializes in the construction of pipeline facilities and pipe fabrication. The additional space will allow the company to expand its operation and house an area for pipe fabrication and offices.
  • Rural Development is a partner in a new initiative called The Rural Jobs and Innovation Accelerator Challenge. This is a multi-agency program between USDA Rural Development and the U.S. Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration. The collaborative effort spurs job creation and economic growth in rural regions. In Illinois, the Bi-State Regional Commission received $193,500 in grants to boost the capacity of local economic development agencies in three northwestern counties. Next, the commission will establish and expand the Henry-Rural Rock Island-Mercer County Economic Development Consortium’s (HRRM) local foods network, coordinate and increase HRRM rural entrepreneur engagement, and conduct HRRM rural tourism community assessments.
  • Through its Rural Business Enterprise Grant program, Rural Development is helping the Quincy Business and Technology Center (QBTC) serve as an incubator to develop successful businesses in the area. The center’s contributions to the region over the past 15 years are remarkable, and Rural Development has helped the center maintain its facility, which currently houses 20 new businesses. Over the past 15 years, QBTC has served 50 entrepreneurs, 70 percent of which were successful and generated in excess of 500 new jobs. According to Executive Director Les McKenzie, “The incubator would not still be in business today if it weren’t for Rural Development.” The return on USDA’s $270,240 investment has been invaluable to the economic viability of this region.

These projects were funded through just four of Rural Development’s 40 programs, but they best exemplify the positive difference our business programs can make on rural economies. So when I say “I’m with the federal government and I’m here to help,” I mean it. And I am hopeful that instead of laughter, you consider contacting Rural Development to inquire as to how we might help your community in the near future. Because Rural Development is here to help! iBi

Colleen Callahan is the Illinois state director for Rural Development at the USDA. Visit www.rurdev.usda.gov/ILHome.html to learn more about Rural Development and its programs.