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‘Proud’ of rural development work

By Staff | Jan 13, 2017

Seventeen months ago, I was asked by the Obama administration to take up the reins for USDA Rural Development in North Dakota. It was an agency well known to me as a rural rancher and a three term senator serving one of the state’s most rural legislative districts.

I was impressed by their work then, but, now, after leading the team of 44 women and men dedicated to the delivery of the agency’s more than 40 programs to our state’s hundreds of rural communities, I am exponentially proud of the work being done.

This week, we released a new Progress Report detailing $289 million of investment in North Dakota infrastructure, housing, businesses and community projects this last fiscal year through loans, grants and loan guarantees. In the eight years of our outgoing President’s administration, North Dakota has benefitted from $4.2 billion in USDA Rural Development investment. Yes, billion with a ‘B’, just here in ‘ND’.

The numbers themselves don’t do justice to the story. I’ve always said good leaders need to be good storytellers, so let me share a couple.

The federal dollars that come through Rural Development are the same dollars that brought power and light to the dark places that were rural America when FDR and Congress started the rural electrification effort in 1936.

They’re the low interest loans to a telephone cooperative that hooked up the state’s last 100 phone lines in western North Dakota in 1971. The co-op manager at the time said they wouldn’t have stood a chance without the two percent interest rate from the USDA, and, even with that, it was a break even deal. Why did they do it? Equality. He said they just thought it was important that those folks have telephones. And now we think it’s important that those same folks have broadband internet.

It’s why we continue to deploy affordable, accessible capital into rural North Dakota through USDA and the federal Farm Bill. Equality. We think it’s important our rural citizens have the quality of life that comes with the hospitals, child care centers, emergency response, affordable housing and water systems we’ve financed. It’s the economic opportunities we’ve encouraged by working with local lenders to guarantee loans to businesses for rural job creation and retention.

When my daughter started second grade, her teacher sent an email the day before on how to prepare our daughter for her first day. She said to make sure the children eat a good meal and get a good night’s sleep. I realized I had a hand in that-as a father, but also as a rancher and through Rural Development.

The meal we get from all of agriculture. The peaceful sleep we get when we have good housing, clean water, medical care, electricity, communication, and all the other underpinnings of a community and a society that cares.

It’s been my honor to be a part of all that. Thank you.

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