USDA targets growth beyond Ohio’s “Three Cs”

Nothing against the “Three C’s” — Columbus, Cleveland and Cincinnati — but if Ohio is to enjoy truly sustainable economic growth, much of that growth should occur in rural and small-town Ohio.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s recently released state-by-state “Made in Rural America” report reflects efforts to strengthen the “four pillars” of a new economy in rural America by developing a robust biobased economy, promoting increased Ag exports, safeguarding environmental resources, and building strong local and regional food systems. These four policy pillars will harness entrepreneurial innovation and help small-town residents and families succeed across rural America.

In Ohio, USDA has made investments to help 366 rural businesses thrive – including $51.7 million in rural manufacturing – which supports nearly 200,000 Ohio jobs. In addition, USDA has helped more than 30,000 families purchase or repair homes and has invested $273 million to support safe water access, storage and treatment. These endeavors have helped safeguard the health and safety of thousands of Ohioans.

Three Rivers Energy, a state-of-the-art biorefinery in Coshocton, offers a clear example of how investment in rural Ohio returns extraordinary dividends. After the plant’s previous owners shuttered operations during the Great Recession, a USDA loan guarantee helped the new owners get the plant up and running again, creating 30 new jobs. Technology improvements have made the plant one of the most efficient in the world, capable of producing an array of useful byproducts such as corn oil, distiller’s grain, and high protein livestock feed. Higher corn basis prices also boost the local farm economy.

Then there’s Pride of the Hills in Killbuck (Holmes County). In 2010, this small manufacturer of oil and gas field equipment saw an opportunity for expansion in the new shale gas play in eastern Ohio. With a USDA business loan guarantee, Pride of the Hills increased its manufacturing capabilities and, as a result, their business has nearly doubled. They now employ more than 160 Ohioans and that number continues to grow.

In Lima (Allen County), locals were elated when Bob Evans Farms announced the acquisition of a local food processor known for its tasty side dishes. Kettle Creations’ $50 million deal was particularly sweet for the company’s entrepreneur-owner, who used a USDA business loan guarantee to expand. The purchase by the iconic, Ohio-based restaurateur is a “Win/Win/Win” – for Bob Evans, which improved its line of premier food offerings; for Kettle Creations, which made a profit while keeping Ohioans employed; and for the U.S. taxpayer as the USDA guaranteed loan was paid off early and in full.

Finally, Earth Day 2014 marked a turning point for the residents of the picturesque lakeside village of Bayview (Erie County). The community was under EPA “Findings and Orders” to replace individual and business wastewater treatment systems discharging directly into Lake Erie’s Sandusky Bay. A USDA environmental loan and grant combination is allowing them to build a modern wastewater collection and treatment system for the village and neighboring Bay Bridge area – an important step in restoring the fragile ecology of Lake Erie’s Western Basin.

The administration’s “Made in Rural America” program emphasizes economic development in small-town America and Ohio. Smart, targeted investments in businesses, housing, community facilities, broadband and infrastructure have and will continue to fortify our and rural communities. It’s all about helping rural Americans succeed just like their Big City cousins. While the “Three Cs” continue to snatch the headlines, quiet, steady progress continues throughout small-town Ohio.

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