from the New Mexico News Connection - A statewide news service for New Mexico
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - The Rural Development Agency, under the umbrella of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, offers many of the services Americans used to count on from their banks, with one large proviso: These services are available only in rural areas.
Terry Brunner, the USDA's New Mexico director for rural development, oversees about 45 programs which do everything from providing loans for small and emerging private businesses to assisting in development of advanced biofuels. At one time, his agency helped bring electricity to rural farms and ranches across the nation.
Brunner says its mission has grown.
"We also have some programs where we give money to nonprofits and public bodies that are re-lenders or micro-lenders. So, they use our money to re-lend it out in the community. So we are doing, in some ways, what banks do."
Brunner says the agency's loans, grants and services are part of an effort to facilitate rural community and economic development. The Rural Development Agency still helps with utility concerns in rural areas, he says, but it also has a vibrant housing program.
"We're one of the largest housing financial institutions in the U.S., and we provide hundreds of home loans and loan guarantees for banks, for people around New Mexico. We also have community facilities program, where we help finance the building of community centers and courthouses and hospitals and clinics."
The agency also offers loan guarantees for businesses, he says, including those which want to increase energy efficiency.
Today, "rural development" can mean anything from small farms and farmers' markets to broadband access. For the latter, Brunner says, his agency has yet to cover the entire state, but is working diligently to link producers to consumers.
"We do a lot of broadband work. We've spent about $150 million in the last couple years in broadband in New Mexico. We've got projects all around the state - First, Middle and Last Mile projects. A lot of those are stimulus projects out to cooperatives and member-owned phone companies in these rural areas."
Since the start of the current administration, Brunner says, the Rural Development Agency has spent about $1 billion in loans, loan guarantees and grants around New Mexico.
Beth Blakeman reporting, email@example.com