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The Scarlet & Black

USDA invests in rural Iowa


Sam Curry

The United States Department of Agriculture invested $643.8 million in rural Iowa communities in 2015 through a range of programs and initiatives. These investments, directed through the USDA’s Rural Development Mission, included efforts to provide affordable housing, business assistance, improved infrastructure and basic community services such as new hospitals and fire stations. 

The rural investment mission has provided $4 billion for these developments since 2008. Barn and Tractor Graphic

“Our focus is on the viability of rural communities and areas which are so important to our state and nation,” said Bill Menner, the USDA Rural Development State Director

Providing financial assistance to residents of rural Iowa for housing was one of the focuses of the department’s 2015 efforts. The reason for this, according to Menner, is economics.

“When a business is looking to expand or move into a community one of the first things they will ask themselves—will my new employees have good homeownership or housing opportunities?” Menner wrote in an email to The S&B.

“Having quality and available housing … is truly a foundational need of any rural community,” Menner added. 

The frequently stated argument that rural Iowa, as well as rural America, is losing its influence is the preponderance of empty storefronts in the typical rural town. Grinnell, while not as bad as some other towns, is hardly an exception. The USDA attempted to counter these assertions through loans to small businesses and energy providers in 2015. 

Rural Development Business and Cooperative Programs provided $65 million to rural businesses in 2015, including $11 million to rural electric co-operatives that aid small business’ operations. Additionally, the USDA’s Rural Energy for America Program allowed 140 businesses in Iowa to add new renewable energy systems or make energy-efficiency improvements. 

The USDA’s efforts here seem like the beginning stages of a vision that providing renewable energy sources will lead to an economic revival of rural America, which a number of presidential candidates, some still in the race and others freshly departed, have promised this election cycle.

Rural towns cannot thrive with business, energy and housing alone. In order to become truly vibrant, they also need efficient and effective community services. 

To this end, the USDA invested $113 million in hospitals and fire stations in 2015, as well as $21 million in water and wastewater systems. These investments will hopefully counter the narrative that rural America, and particularly rural Iowa, is receding into the background of American society, and instead will help them continue to grow and serve the country far into the future.

“We are proud to serve the needs of rural people and places to ensure that rural America continues to thrive and drive the economy,” Menner wrote.

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