By Thomas Garcia
QCS Senior Writer
Rural development programs offered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture are for those who live in the cities as well as for farmers and ranchers, according to USDA spokesman Ernie Watson.
“The programs offered by the USDA are for everyone and every entity in rural America,” Watson said, explaining that the various program offered by the USDA — including grants and loans — are aimed at assisting rural America with providing jobs and improving infrastructure, such as waste water projects, as well as the purchase of police vehicles and ambulances.
Watson answered questions about the rural programs during an interview with Quay County Sun staff about various USDA services.
“Our goal is to provide services that will create the best possible lifestyle for those living in rural New Mexico,” Watson said.
Watson said that the USDA has helped with large utility projects in rural New Mexico, including telephone and electric projects. He said while these projects are larger scale, the USDA program has opportunities to assist smaller businesses as well.
Watson loans and grants are in place through the USDA Rural Development’s Rural Energy for America Program to help a grocery store owner install energy-efficient freezers. Watson said these types of projects save business owners money; moreover, they will receive a payment totaling 25 percent of the cost of installing the more efficient freezers.
In July, USDA Rural Development State Director Terry Brunner presented Mary Woodson, owner of Bar C Metal Roofing Supplies, Inc. in Pojoaque, with a certificate of congratulations for receiving $14,153 from the REAP program, according to the USDA website.
The funding provided by the REAP program offset the $66,605 she spent to install the solar-power system at the business. Since its installation two months ago, the company’s electric bill dropped from an average of $400 each month to $15.
Watson said grants and loans also are available for agricultural producers looking to start a business. He said there are programs available to help a producer of chili and tomatoes that may want to produce salsa but wants to cut out the middle man. The grant or loan will help the producer purchase the equipment that will allow them to make the salsa themselves.
Watson said there are numerous programs to assist home owners make energy efficiency conversions to their homes as well as help in the purchase of a home.
Watson said the USDA is working to help rural communities like Tucumcari team up with surrounding communities toward a common goal of rural development.
In July, Tucumcari became part of the Stronger Economies Together, which also is run by USDA, according to Brunner.
Watson said many times, communities in a region have the same ideas, goals and issues or problems. “This gives the rural communities an opportunity to work with each other and use each of their resources to the benefit of each other,” Watson added.
Watson said it has become increasingly ineffective for a single rural county to create, attract and retain jobs by itself. He said in today’s economy, it is far more likely for economic development to occur when rural and urban counties work together.
Watson said people can learn more about the opportunities available to rural New Mexico at the USDA website http://www.rd.usda.gov/nm.