On Wednesday, March 7, I received the sad news that Gary DeCramer died. Gary was Minnesota's Rural Development State Director from 1997-2001.
Gary and I go back longer than I can remember. He was a strong advocate for Minnesota's rural communities and served as State Director when the Clinton administration was transforming the
Farmers Home Administration into USDA Rural Development, which is what we are known as today.
Current members of Rural Development's staff that worked for Gary talk about his focus on team-building and community development. During the transition to Rural Development, Gary helped everyone continue delivering and improving our programs and services. He championed USDA's new mission area, both to internal staff and rural communities we worked with. Gary also worked closely with Minnesota's Tribal communities and increased the use of our programs among the Tribal nations.
Gary's efforts laid the groundwork for the success that Rural Development would have in the following 15 years. Throughout, Gary made sure the focus remained on the people and communities that Rural Development serves. Our name was changing, but Gary never lost sight of the fact that serving rural Minnesota was the only thing that ultimately mattered.
We will forever appreciate Gary's work for rural Minnesota, but most importantly, Gary was a loving husband and father. I ask that everyone please support Gary's wife daughters during this time of loss.
Rest in peace, Gary. You will be missed.
The Obama Administration recently announced a $15 million multi-agency Rural Jobs and Innovation Accelerator challenge to spur job creation and economic growth in distressed rural communities.
President Obama announced the challenge as part of the Administration’s “We Can’t Wait”
efforts to strengthen the economy, create jobs and support business growth, particularly expanding opportunity for rural Americans and supporting new and innovative businesses nationwide.
The deadline for applications is May 9, 2012, and guidelines for submissions are available here
The national effort will support rural partnerships by identifying and leveraging local assets and strengthening linkages to industry clusters. Strong industry clusters promote robust economic ecosystems and the development of a skilled workforce, both of which are critical to long-term regional success in rural areas. Last year’s 20 challenge winners – both rural and urban public-private partnerships – generated millions in matching funds, and their projects are expected to help create hundreds of new businesses and thousands of new jobs.
The Rural Jobs Accelerator Challenge is expected to give out approximately 20 awards, depending on the number of eligible applications. To be eligible for an award, projects must benefit rural communities, but the applicant is not required to be located in a rural area. Nonprofits, higher education institutions, tribes and state and local governments are encouraged to collaborate to apply for funding. Although businesses are not eligible to apply directly, applicants can also partner with the private sector on implementation.
The competition, is funded by the U.S.Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration (EDA), U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Delta Regional Authority (DRA), and the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC). The Taskforce for the Advancement of Regional Innovation Clusters and the White House Rural Council designed the challenge
On a farm in small-town Pierz, Minn., Tom and Jenni Smude are breaking new ground in the cooking oil business.
Tom and Jenni started Smude’s Natural Sunflower Oil
in February of 2010 and have enjoyed the ride ever since. What began as an idea to grow a drought-tolerant crop
transformed into a rural small-business success story with the potential to become something even bigger.
A couple of dry seasons on the farm led to the Smudes planting sunflowers. Tom originally wanted to extract biofuel from the crushed sunflowers, but he quickly learned there were other, more profitable, uses for his new crop.
After using a bottle of sunflower oil to fry potatoes for dinner one night, Tom and Jenni were instantly hooked.
“It was like butter,” Tom said. “Just awesome.”
The idea to cold-press sunflower seeds and start bottling and selling all natural, high-oleic sunflower oil took shape.
USDA Rural Development recently selected Smude’s Natural Sunflower Oil to receive a $298,500 value-added producer grant
for marketing and working capital.
Using a revolving loan fund established through Rural Development’s Intermediary Relending Program
, Morrison County
provided startup financing in 2009. Other assistance came from the Initiative Foundation of Little Falls, USDA’s Farm Service Agency, the Small Business Development Center at Central Lakes College in Brainerd and private financing.
The Smude’s started selling their sunflower oil at Thielen Meats
and Hartman’s General Store, both well-known local businesses in Pierz. They expanded to farmers markets, developed a website and exhibited at health and sportsman’s expos.
Business started to grow.
In the early stages, Tom estimates he sent one pallet of sunflower oil every six months for distribution in the Twin Cities. Now he sends two per month. Smude’s products can be found in over 100 retail stores and restaurants throughout Minnesota, and Tom and Jenni are working to become the country’s first national distributor of natural, food-grade, cold-pressed sunflower oil.
But no matter how much business grows, the Smudes know it wouldn’t have happened without the grass-roots support from the Pierz community and surrounding region.
“It’s all about community pride,” Tom said. “Whether people know me or not, they know where my product comes from. That means something, both to us and our customers.”
For a longer version of the Smude's success story, click here.
Dr. Steven Mulder can't enter Harmony River Living Center without smiling.
The CEO and President of Hutchinson Area Health Care wore an especially large smile during a dedication cremony for the new
senior living facility on February 29.
"When we broke ground, we imagined what could be," Mulder said. "We didn't imagine this."
Harmony River is a new 108-room senior care facility financed using a $13.3 million direct loan and a $5 million loan guarantee through Rural Development's community facilities program
. AgStar Rural Capital Network is the lender on the guaranteed portion of the loan.
The new facility resulted in the hiring of about 50 new employees, bringing the total number of staff to over 200.
Harmony River offers several upgrades over Burns Manor, the previous senior living facility managed by Hutchinson Area Health Care. Resident rooms doubled in size. Bathrooms are handicap accessible. Hallways are 8-feet wide. Specific units are dedicated to specilalized services such as memory care and rehab.
"This puts us in the best position for the long-term," said Dan Lindh, President of Presbyterian Homes & Services. Lindh oversaw the project's development. "This means a lot to our community."
USDA and AgStar
have partnered on several healthcare-related facilities throughout rural Minnsota over the last two years. The result has been increased access to valuable services in rural areas and nearly 1,000 of rural jobs in the growing healthcare field.
"USDA's team stepping up to the plate 16 months ago was a game-changer," Lindh said. "We can't thank the USDA and AgStar enough."
Eligible recipients are USDA rural utilities program borrowers (such as electric and telephone cooperatives). REDLG recipients pass the funds to local
organizations for job creation and economic development projects, typically through a revolving loan fund.
The maximum funding for one project is $1 million for loans and $300,000 for grants.
Nationwide, USDA plans to award up to $79 million in loans and $10 million in grants. Minnesota has received about $10 million in REDLGs since 2009.
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