USDA Rural Development looks to future

USDA Rural Development looks to future By Lynn D. Jensen 2004 was a year of achievement for South Dakota Rural Development, and President Bush is challenging us to do even more in 2005 � to work toward universal broadband access in rural America, to strengthen distance learning, telemedicine, and critical health care in rural communities, and to encourage homeownership and entrepreneur- ship. The goals are high, and Rural Development has a mandate to lead.

Fortunately, we don't have to start from scratch. South Dakota Rural Development has a record we can be proud of. In 2004 alone, rural communities in South Dakota gained or saved over 182 jobs and enjoyed over $27,208,547 in new investment in 2004 through RD-supported projects.

Thanks to RD loans or grants, 1,305 South Dakota families were able to move into new or rehabilitated homes. Thousands more are

being served today by new RD investments in community facilities or water, electric, or telecommunications projects.

But rural America is a diverse, dynamic, and changing place. As director of the South Dakota Rural Development program, I recently had the opportunity to travel to Washington, DC to meet with Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman, Acting Under Secretary for Rural Development Gilbert Gonzalez, and the other state directors from around the country to set goals for 2005. The challenges are clear.

Rural America has significant advantages � lower costs of living and a higher quality of life, affordable land for business development and expansion, a high quality workforce, a tradition of grassroots initiative and community involvement.

We all recognize, however, that modern communications, transportation, community infrastructure, and access to venture capital are the keys to unlocking this potential. That's where USDA Rural Development comes in.

President Bush has emphasized the importance of universal broadband access for a dynamic and growing economy. Rural Development

is one of the key agencies in making this goal a reality. For decades, Rural Development has worked to bring modern electric, water, wastewater treatment, and telephone services to rural communities. Rural broadband access today is like rural electrification in the 1930s and 40s. It's essential to allowing rural communities to compete, it's a top priority for 2005, and we're going to make it happen.

Similarly, access to critical medical care is a core quality of life issue for current rural residents, a fundamental threshold question for new business development, and a key priority for the Bush administration. Through our targeted support for rural hospitals and our telemedicine and first responder initiatives, Rural Development is meeting the challenge.

Finally, homeownership and entrepreneurship are at the heart of the president's call for an ownership society. They are also at the heart of Rural Development's historic mission.

We will rely on strategic partnerships with other federal, state, and local entities,

non-profit organizations, and community lenders to leverage scarce federal dollars into significant new investment in South Dakota rural communities.

It may be low interest loans to turn renters into homeowners.

It may be a loan or grant to jump start a new rural business and create more jobs.

It may be support for new infrastructure needed to attract business investment. It's all part of the Rural

Development mission.

The numbers add up fast. Nationally, USDA Rural Development in 2004 provided over $14 billion in new investment in rural utilities, housing, and business development. Since the beginning of the Bush Administration, Rural Development has invested over $50 billion to finance and foster growth in rural America.

Over 800,000 jobs have been created or saved through these investments.

South Dakota Rural Development will continue that mission in 2005 � creating economic opportunity and improving the quality of life for rural South Dakota � one homeowner, one small business, one rural community at a time.

Further information on rural programs is available at a local USDA Rural Development office or by visiting USDA's Web site at http://www.rurdev.usda.gov.

Lynn D. Jensen is the State Director for the USDA Rural Development in South Dakota. USDA Rural Development has 10 office locations throughout the state of South Dakota. Visit www.rurdev.usda.gov/sd.

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