Rural development could help fill North Dakota funding gaps
BISMARCK -- With cuts to statewide funding, U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development expects its loan program, and those like it, to take on greater demand. State Director Ryan Taylor said many small communities want to handle the populat...
BISMARCK -- With cuts to statewide funding, U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development expects its loan program, and those like it, to take on greater demand.
State Director Ryan Taylor said many small communities want to handle the population growth that has come to the area and make their communities attractive places to live for the long term. With state coffers running below expectations due to low energy prices, many rural towns could turn to one of Rural Development’s more than 40 federal funding programs.
“I think we will probably see more applications,” Taylor said. “We’re definitely part of the mix.”
For example, Taylor said proposed domestic violence crisis centers in oil country that did not get state oil and gas impact funding looked to Rural Development. While committing to a loan was a concern for the nonprofit centers, the agency’s programs and others like it could become another option.
During fiscal year 2015, Rural Development invested $301 million in projects statewide, according to Taylor, who said Rural Development attempts to spur economic development in rural areas from a variety of angles.
The agency has invested in health care, including financing a new medical campus in Hazen for Sakakawea Medical Center. Rural Development made a direct loan for $11 million and a guaranteed loan through Union State Bank for $10.3 million, which together financed about 70 percent of project costs.
For child care, the agency partnered with Cankdeska Cikana Community College and the Spirit Lake Tribe for a new Head Start facility. North Dakota is among the top five states for broadband connectivity in the nation because of the aid provided by the agency. And for housing, the agency provided $66 million for affordable housing in 2015.
“We really pave the way for businesses to come into the community and be successful,” said Taylor, adding community facilities are important to workforce attraction and retention.
Rural Development also partners with rural cooperatives and helps businesses directly.
Helping more rural businesses start and expand diversifies the rural economy, getting small towns “off the roller coaster of commodity driven cycles," according to Taylor. This could be helping an equipment manufacturer expand funding ideas that would add value through processing of the agriculture products or, in the case of Hettinger, Rural Development provided a $2 million no interest loan for a new veterinary clinic.
Taylor said a lot of projects the agency funds also include business plans and feasibility studies, providing seed money vital to startups.
In 2015, Rural Development funded 37 business projects. It funded 32 in 2014, 30 in 2013 and 30 in 2012. The agency has helped more than 500 businesses, directly or indirectly, since 2009.