HERSHEY, Pa. — It’s hard for rural communities to take advantage of funds and programs if they don’t know about them.
That’s why Bob Morgan, the USDA’s state director of rural development in Pennsylvania, is going on tour.
On May 20, Morgan wrapped up a week-long tour of southwestern Pennsylvania, where he got to see rural development projects in action and meet with community leaders.
During the week, Morgan visited Cambria, Fayette, Greene and Washington counties.
“This tour has combined not only looking at the things we’ve done, but it’s also involved meeting about things that still need to be done,” Morgan said.
Some of the rural development projects seen on the tour were sewage treatment plants in Greene County, an expanded winery in Cambria County, a fire station in Washington County, and a new building in the county. de Fayette which houses the Council of Private Industry.
The tour showed the wide variety of projects that can be funded through rural development, which Morgan says is USDA’s fifth-largest presence in the country.
“USDA Rural Development is probably the agency that most people don’t know about,” Morgan said. “But we have a huge impact. We have a number of programs. They really vary in range.
Rural Development has injected $366 million into Pennsylvania so far this fiscal year and has funneled $3.8 billion to the Commonwealth over the past five years.
The amount and scope of the loan vary depending on the project. But Morgan said even small loans can have a big impact on the community.
The Cambria County winery started out small but has now grown so big that it has to buy grapes from other vineyards in the area.
“It’s fascinating to see the impact on communities,” Morgan said. “It has an impact far beyond the community or county where the projects are located.”
Rural development projects are financed mainly by loans and not by grants.
“We lend on very favorable terms because we see it as an investment in our communities,” Morgan said.
Often rural communities have a long list of things they would like to improve, but they lack funding. Rural development finances the projects, while the communities execute the plans.
“We’re trying to make sure communities in rural Pennsylvania get the funding they need to invest in economic opportunity and to provide a better quality of life for those communities,” Morgan said. “It’s really about making sure that people who live in rural and smaller communities have an equal footing with people who live in urban areas.”
Much of the current funding for rural development comes from the Infrastructure Investment and Employment Act.
President Joe Biden signed the $1 trillion-plus spending plan on November 15.
“This will be a unique opportunity to make improvements in our communities and provide services that otherwise would not be available,” Morgan said.
In addition to the water and environmental projects, community facilities and rural business programs that were highlighted on the tour, rural development also offers housing, broadband and energy programs, as well as producer grants. agriculture-focused value-added.
Morgan is planning a tour of the northwest next and hopes to visit parts of central Pennsylvania afterward.
“It’s wonderful to have the opportunity to meet these people and work to help the communities we serve,” said Morgan. “There really is no substitute for interaction at events like our facility tour. It’s a great opportunity to see people from all over the state.
USDA Rural Development has eight offices throughout Pennsylvania. Community residents and business owners who want to learn more about rural development funding can visit an office or the state’s rural development website at rd.usda.gov/ no.