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USDA grants, loans available to rural areas

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Clyde Hudson of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Business Development says his group has grant and loan funds that can fund "the whole darn town" in smaller rural communities. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

People in rural areas can access quite a few loan and grant programs that benefit individuals, public entities, businesses and agricultural producers, a U.S. Department of Agriculture manager told local government representatives.

Clyde Hudson with the Las Cruces area of USDA Rural Development talked to people attending a Friday meeting of the board of directors of the Southeastern New Mexico Economic Development District and Council of Governments.
The group consists of representatives of about 26 county and municipal entities in Eddy, Chaves, Lincoln and Otero counties. It works to plan and obtain funding for capital and infrastructure projects and to procure technical assistance for economic development efforts.
Hudson provided a list of current USDA Rural Development funding programs, telling people that business grants are typically available for areas with populations up to 50,000, while housing and public facility programs benefit areas with up to 20,000 people. Programs to fund water or utility improvements typically help areas with 10,000 or fewer people, he said.
“The whole theme when you go through there (the list of programs) is to provide jobs for rural areas and to keep the people who live in the area safe,” he said. “We want them to have health care. We want them to have education. … We want them to have access to jobs and safe housing.”
Hudson said that the single-family housing programs are a priority for the federal agency because they are underutilized in the southeastern part of the state.
“On the east side, we need to build up the program,” he said. “Over on the west side, we have nonprofits who go out there, that collect all the clientele. They find them; they make them application-ready. ”
About eight programs will directly help families and individuals purchase homes or will provide funds to owners of rental homes to rehabilitate or repair housing.
Programs also exist to help smaller communities build schools, libraries, correctional facilities, hospitals or other public facilities or to buy needed vehicles for emergency services or road departments.

Eleven different business programs exist, said Hudson, including the “bread and butter” for the agency, the Business and Industry Loan Guarantees for areas with populations up to 50,000. The loans are meant to build rural economies or create jobs.
In recent years, the loans have gone to several hotels and motels, a shooting range and oil and gas-related businesses.
“My average loan is $5 million,” said Ray Melton, who works in the Roswell office of the USDA. “I would like to see a mix of loans for different industries and also to get smaller loans into the program. And we are starting to see those this year. There are quite a few that have popped in that are in the $350,000 to $700,000 range.”
Hudson also mentioned the Value-Added Producer Grants as one of two grants run by his agency that directly aid ranchers and farmers. The Value-Added Producer Grants provide up to $250,000 to independent agricultural producers in all rural areas if they seek to somehow enhance their product. The grants require matching funds, but sometimes the agricultural product itself can serve as part of the match, Hudson said.
Adding value can occur in ways not often thought about, he said.
“People think that a value-added project has to mean a physical change to the product (such as changing chiles into salsa), but it doesn’t have to be,” he said. “It can be something as simple as marketing.”
For example, he said, selling a product under a recognized name brand can be considered value-added. One funded project involved a winery developing special packaging so that their products could be sold at major retailers.
More information about the loan and grant programs is available at rurdev.usda.gov/nm.
Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 310, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.