VIEW FROM THE TOP: USDA'S RURAL DEVELOPMENT AGENCY
BUILDING THE RURAL INFRASTRUCTURE
Name: Thomas C. Dorr
Title: Under Secretary for Rural Development
Career: Former President of an Iowa-based family agribusiness consisting of a corn and soybean farm, commercial grain elevator, and two LLCs. Member and officer of the Iowa and National Corn Growers Association.
Education: B.S. degree in business administration from Morningside College.
AM: In what activities is USDA Rural
TD: USDA Rural Development is essentially an investment bank for rural America. Since 2001, we have invested over $76 billion in rural infrastructure, housing, community facilities, businesses, and energy development. As of February 2007, we had an outstanding loan portfolio (direct and guaranteed loans) exceeding $96 billion with a delinquency rate of just 1.03%.
Rural America is incredibly diverse. If it were a country of its own, it would have a population as large as France or Italy in a land area larger than Europe west of Russia. It is a cliché but like most clichés, it is true: one size does not fit all. USDA Rural Development is one of the most decentralized agencies in government with over 800 state and local offices. We administer over 40 programs. We have an unmatched delivery system with an unparalleled ability to find the right tool for the job.
AM: How do your programs benefit agribusinesses?
TD: USDA Rural Development's business programs are open to all rural businesses. We provide a wide range of grants, loans, and loan guarantees to assist with business development. We also provide extensive technical support which, for small and startup businesses particularly, may be the extra boost they need to succeed.
Of particular interest to agribusiness would be our Business and Industry Guaranteed Loan Program, the Value Added Producer Grant Program, the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Program, and our infrastructure programs that assist rural communities in providing electric, telecommunications, broadband, water, and wastewater services.
AM: How is USDA Rural Development involved in the biofuels industry?
TD: USDA Rural Development is deeply involved in renewable energy, including biofuels. Renewable energy is probably the biggest new opportunity for economic growth and wealth creation in rural America in our lifetimes. To take just one example: President Bush's "20 in 10" initiative proposes to reduce U.S. gasoline consumption by 20% over ten years. This goal would be met primarily through a 35 billion gallon Alternative Fuels Standard by 2017. If this is met primarily through biofuels, that implies a new market for American producers equal to half of today's net farm income.
Since 2001, USDA Rural Development has invested over $480 million in more than 1,100 renewable energy and energy efficiency projects. This includes ethanol and biodiesel as well as wind, solar, geothermal, methane gas recovery, and other biomass technologies. Looking ahead, the President's 2007 Farm Bill proposals include several important new initiatives to accelerate the development of renewable energy. Cellulosic ethanol is an especially high priority.
AM: What programs does USDA Rural Development have for the Rural Lifestyle consumer?
TD: Rural America today is a place of extraordinary opportunity and diversity. The quality of life is one of its greatest assets. "Lifestyle enhancement," however, is an extremely broad term. We improve the quality of life in many ways: helping rural businesses create more and better jobs; providing vital infrastructure like rural broadband and water and wastewater systems; providing affordable housing; and providing essential community facilities.
AM: What is your outlook for the rural marketplace?
TD: Last October I had the privilege of standing with President Bush, Secretary Johanns, Secretary Bodman, and EPA Administrator Steve Johnson at a conference entitled "Advancing Renewable Energy: A Rural Renaissance." The word "renaissance" is appropriate — and while renewable energy is certainly an important part of the story, rural America's assets are incredibly diverse. The simplest way to put it is that modern technology, by eroding the ancient barriers of time and distance, is advantaging rural communities.
Broadband enables economic diversification; more and more jobs can be done just about anywhere and rural areas, with their lower costs, are often the beneficiaries. Renewable energy is largely rural energy. The rural quality of life is unsurpassed.
A small town or rural area that can offer a good job, quality education and health care, access to the global commons via the Internet, a clean environment, low crime, low housing costs, a ten minute commute, and a walkable community where you know your neighbors is hard to beat. These things aren't abstractions. They are tangible marketing advantages. I am bullish about rural America.