Thursday, July 24, 2014

White House Rural Council to invest $10 billion in rural economic development

The White House Rural Council announced in a press release Thursday a $10 billion dollar investment fund to promote rural economic development. "This fund will continue to grow the rural economy by increasing access to capital for rural infrastructure projects and speeding up the process of rural infrastructure improvements," the release said. The funds, announced during the Rural Opportunity Investment Conference, are created by a partnership between the U.S. Department of Agriculture and CoBank.

"The fund will be used to distribute loans to improve infrastructure in rural communities such as wastewater treatment, roads and bridges, rural broadband, and conservation projects," Spencer Chase reports for Agri-Pulse, a Washington newsletter. "Loans will be distributed and repaid with the goal of creating an ongoing fund used to improve rural infrastructure."

Funds could be invaluable to rural areas in desperate need of economic development. Jerry Rickett, president of the Kentucky Highlands Investment Corp., told the Rural Blog, "The increased grant and loan funding priority that is part of the Promise Zone designation should help projects from the Promise Zone compete for some of this funding." He added that the expansion of broadband to rural areas, especially in Easter Kentucky, through the SOAR program is a major priority of Gov. Steve Beshear and Rep. Hal Rogers, both Democrats.

The White House press release says: "The Rural Infrastructure Opportunity Fund will allow America's rural economy to continue its forward momentum by enhancing access to capital for rural infrastructure projects and speeding up the process of rural infrastructure improvements. The new fund will allow a wide variety of new participants, including pension funds, endowments, foundations and other institutional investors that have not traditionally had access to these markets to invest in rural development. In some cases, projects may be funded entirely through private sector dollars. In others, private dollars may be leveraged with and extend critical government loan and grant programs."

"USDA and other agencies will help to identify rural projects in need of financing through the new fund and through other such private sources and public-private partnerships," the release said. "Target investments will include rural community facilities (especially health care and educational facilities), rural water and wastewater systems, rural energy projects, rural broadband expansion efforts, local and regional food systems, and other rural infrastructure." (Read more)

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