As part of our series on U.S. Resources for Small Business, we’ve asked multiple small business owner, small town and rural small business expert and advocate, and regular SmallBusiness.com contributor, Becky McCray, to provide us with an overview of the Rural Development program of the U.S. Department Agriculture. (Learn more about Becky in this article’s byline info box.)
The USDA’s Rural Development program was created to improve the economy and quality of life in rural America. It is a huge, wide-ranging program with a big challenge: finding innovative ways to create business opportunities and jobs in rural and small town USA. Why? Encouraging economic development in rural areas and small towns is vital to all Americans who rely on the food, fuel and goods these communities produce.
As you’ll see in a list of links provided below, USDA Rural Development offers loans, grants and loan guarantees to support essential services such as housing, economic development, health care, first responder services and equipment, and water, electric and communications infrastructure. It promotes economic development by supporting loans to businesses through banks, credit unions and community-managed lending pools, and offers technical assistance and information to help agricultural producers and cooperatives get started and improve the effectiveness of their operations.
Working with state, academic and regional agencies, they provide grant and loan programs to strengthen utilities, encourage home ownership and improve community facilities, which can include the types of basic infrastructure that Americans in most towns take for granted—fire departments, libraries, community centers, health care facilities, etc.
I’ve personally been involved in some projects with Rural Development teams and found them a positive force for rural places. Of course, as with any large organization, a team member can sometimes be hampered by “stuck in their ways” thinking, but that’s the exception, not the rule.
Some specific objectives of USDA Rural Development
- Support creation and growth of small businesses
- Help people find affordable housing
- Help people become first-time homeowners
- Connect America’s remote towns with medical providers and business customers via technology and communications
- Improve critical water and other community facilities
- Through energy efficiency, lower utility costs for residents and businesses through energy efficiency
- Bolster local and regional food systems
Rural development programs for businesses
These links will take you to specific pages on the Rural Development website where you can find updated information, explanations, application forms and dates and more.
- Business Industry Loan Guarantees
- Intermediary Relending Program
- Rural Business Development Grants
- Rural Business Investment Program
- Rural Economic Development Loan, Grant Program
- Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program
- Value Added Producer Grants
- Rural Cooperative Development Grants
- Advanced Biofuel Payment Program
- Repowering Assistance Program
- Biorefinery, Renewable Chemical, and Biobased Product Manufacturing Assistance Program
- Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) Energy Audits, Renewable Energy Development Grants
- Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) Renewable Energy, Energy Efficiency Loans, Grants
- Strategic Economic and Community Development
By the numbers: 2015 USDA Rural Development activities that support business development
1.1 million | Number of loans, guaranteed loans and grants to support housing
150,000 | Families helped to buy, refinance or repair their homes
11,931 | Loans and grants to support community facilities
10,623 | Loans and grants to support rural water and wastewater services
2,491 | Projects to support broadband and rural electric services
$1.8 Billion | Funds provided for services such as schools, hospitals, day care centers, first-responder vehicles and equipment, and other needs
24,000 | Projects to support rural businesses and entrepreneurship
12,500 | New rural businesses started with some form or backing or guarantee
$1.5 billion | Loans, loan guarantees and grants to small businesses