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From Aroostook to York, how small businesses are driving the rural economy

Posted June 19, 2013, at 12:35 p.m.
USDA Rural Development State Director Virginia Manuel addresses the Maine Wind Energy Conference in Augusta in 2011.
Photo courtesy of USDA
USDA Rural Development State Director Virginia Manuel addresses the Maine Wind Energy Conference in Augusta in 2011.

In rural America, the local community drives the rural economy. Money spent and invested locally rolls through a community and generates even more economic benefits.

That’s why rural small businesses are critical to strong rural communities. And it’s why U.S. Department of Agriculture, Rural Development, is pleased to join with the Small Business Administration to recognize and honor America’s small businesses this week, during National Small Business Week. President Barack Obama marked the beginning of Small Business Week by issuing a presidential proclamation for the 50th year running.

At USDA Rural Development, we have the expertise and financing to help small businesses to thrive. Our assistance has a significant impact on rural communities. In 2012, we helped 263 Maine businesses through our business programs, impacting

798 local jobs.

USDA Rural Development invests in many sectors of the Maine economy. Helping to grow businesses that support local and regional foods, investing in the bio-based economy, and assisting intermediary organizations relend to small rural businesses are just a few ways this is being accomplished in Maine.

Just ask the Maine agribusiness Northern Girl. Its new vegetable processing facility in Van Buren officially opens this fall, supporting 12 rural northern Maine farms that will supply it with fresh locally grown root vegetables. Funded in part by a USDA Rural Development Rural Business Enterprise Grant in the amount of $350,000, the new 4,000-square-foot facility will be a major source of local and regional foods in Maine and New England, with its ultimate goal to process 1 million pounds when at full capacity.

USDA Rural Development supports the bio-based economy as well. Through programs such as the Bioenergy Program for Advanced Biofuels, USDA Rural Development has supported all four of Maine’s pellet manufacturers, resulting in a total investment of $1,047,288 in Maine biofuel manufacturing businesses since fiscal year 2009. In this program, payments are made to eligible producers based on the amount of advanced biofuels produced from renewable biomass. Supporting our Maine wood pellet manufacturers helps to ensure the continued production of advanced biofuels from Maine’s abundant biomass resources. Wood pellets give Mainers the option of using an alternative to fossil fuel, helping to keep more money in their pockets. Which means they have more to spend at a local business on Main Street.

And USDA Rural Development has programs to help keep business operating costs low through programs, such as the Rural Energy for America Program, and funding good old-fashioned ingenuity through programs such as the Value-Added Producer Grant Program. In fiscal year 2012, a total of 13 Maine businesses received REAP grants for installing renewable or energy efficient systems or conducting feasibility studies to do so, saving on operating costs while contributing to cutting carbon emissions. Two Maine farms were supported through the VAPG Program, including Bragdon Farms, of Vassalboro, which received $300,000 to add value to the waste hay produced at the farm by turning it into hay fire logs, and Tide Mill Organics, of Edmunds Township, which will use the grant to increase poultry production from 11,500 to 20,000 birds per year.

Finally, through our revolving loan programs, USDA Rural Development is helping intermediary organizations that we lend to meet the challenge of assisting small rural businesses in the communities they serve. In just the past five years, this successful revolving loan program has provided a total of $10,732,601 through 14 intermediaries, from Aroostook County to York County, assisting 150 rural Maine businesses and helping to create and retain thousands of jobs. In Maine, there is $9,344,275 in existing revolving loan funds for credit-worthy businesses seeking capital.

As we kick off Small Business Week, join us at USDA Rural Development in supporting the local small businesses that will build new opportunity across America’s small towns and rural communities.

Virginia Manuel is state director for the Rural Development division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

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