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USDA offers options for rural growth

Steve Pelham, the state director for the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Rural Development team toured the Butler County area Thursday, looking at the area’s potential for rural development.

The group then hosted a seminar to outline the agency’s many funding opportunities and how Butler County’s businesses and residents could benefit from them at the Chamber of Commerce office.

&uot;We are in the process of visiting every county in Alabama,&uot; Pelham said. &uot;Our purpose here is to promote our programs and resources. We aren’t using all of the funding we have, so we want to make people more aware of what we do.&uot;

He said the tour was two-fold in its objectives.

&uot;We get to come here and let the people find out who we are, and we get to meet them and find out who they are,&uot; Pelham said.

The director said that USDA Rural Development agency had a long tradition of contributing to Butler County’s development.

&uot;Since 1993, we have contributed more than $13 million to partnerships in Butler County,&uot; he said. &uot;That’s more than $1 million per year in the past 10 years.&uot;

Local elected officials and community businessmen and leaders attended the seminar.

The group’s host was Butler County Industrial Development Board Chairman Steve Norman, who invited the group after traveling to their offices in Montgomery to seek funding resources for the county’s industrial park.

&uot;The programs that the USDA Rural Development program has available is obviously something the county is interested in,&uot; Norman said. &uot;They came here today, and have already identified several possible candidates for funding. If they can do it that quickly, then we want to be in a place to take advantage of it.&uot;

The attendees presented several ideas for a &uot;wish list&uot; for funding. The ideas included a conference center, new jail, handicap accessible elevators for the courthouse, volunteer fire department improvements, daycare centers, water and sewage systems for McKenzie and a feasibility study for placement of an additional fire station in Greenville.

&uot;There’s no question there are people out there who could benefit from these programs and simply aren’t aware of them,&uot; Norman said.

Some of the funding programs that are available through the Rural Development agency are rural enterprise grants, rural business opportunity grants, farm labor housing loans and grants, housing preservation grants, rural community development development initiatives, single- and multi-family housing loans and many others.

The USDA Rural Development Service Center is located at 320 Greenville Bypass and is open from 9 a.m. to noon on Thursdays. For more information, call 382-8536.