There is a lot of opportunity for small, rural communities to capitalize on good ideas that can bolster the community’s standing in the region. 

Capital improvements, infrastructure upgrades, community services, and even life-saving services can be brought in, with various cost-sharing options available through the United States Department of Agriculture. 

In a visit to Seneca County, State Director of Rural Development Richard Mayfield said the biggest challenge is letting members of the community know about things that are available. “We want to be partners with our rural communities,” Mayfield explained. “That’s what we were founded to do; and that’s the mission we continue with today.” 

Western Region Rural Development Specialist Jim Walfrand agreed. He’s spent decades helping connect the USDA and these local communities tasked with bringing their towns, villages, and cities up to modern day standards.  

“It comes down to partnership,” Walfrand added. “We can take the local community issues and bring them to the national level and communicate with our various partners at the state and federal level to help find funding for these efforts.”

In that process, local communities get the benefit of planning that’s already been completed in other places.

Two unique challenges that Mayfield and Walfrand agree is crucial to advancing rural communities is housing and transportation. Supervisor Cindy Lorenzetti (D-Fayette) says this has been an active issue for years in Seneca County. “They’re probably the two issues we hear most-frequently from residents,” she explained. “Next to keep taxes low, of course, which is the challenge when essential services aren’t being met for those residents in rural areas.”

Supervisor Lee Davidson (R-Lodi) agreed. “It’s always difficult coming up with the funds for projects,” he added. Mayfield said that cooperation, even at the state or federal level, can pay big dividends to rural communities. 

“We have the ability to work directly with the banks, and if there are projects that require the USDA’s partnership we can help guide the community through the process and help facilitate an outcome,” he explained. 

That means partnering with agencies like the Small Business Administration, which was led by Linda McMahon until this past week. “They have some great, mature programs that have assisted with the USDA’s rural development initiatives,” Mayfield said. “This is where the USDA has the ability to connect and guide through the process.”

Helping communities guide through a complex process is important, too. Facilitating various grants means wading through a lot of paperwork, and for some rural communities - and their leadership structures - it can be overwhelming.

“We want people in these communities to know that we’re not just here to tell them about programs or grant opportunities. We’re here to help them move through the process. We can be there every step of the way, and we’re always available to answer questions,” Mayfield continued. 

For more information elected leaders, business owners, and residents are encouraged to check out the USDA’s Rural Development information portal by visiting rd.usda.gov/programs-services.

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