Billed as a public meeting, the Toledo visit last Thursday of Bill Menner, USDA Rural Development state director, turned into more of a head-to-head information session with Tama County Economic Development Director Heath Kellogg.
A rural Toledo resident, was the only member of the public who attended the session at the Reinig-Toledo Civic Center.
Menner was accompanied by Amy Kuhlers, state program manager for Connect Iowa. Her organization is working with the Iowa Department of Economic Development to assure broadband internet service availability state-wide.
Menner's main message was simply stated by him "Every community, every person in Tama County is eligible for USDA Rural Development programs."
He said the "challenge is to let people know" while noting, "We've put nearly $3 billion in small towns in Iowa."
Menner said even with federal budget woes, "Congress like us. We are sort of infrastructural-based."
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IOWA FALLS RURAL DEVELOPMENT AREA OFFICE
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He said among his agency's functions are to make loan guarantees and grants for businesses and civic building and public utility projects.
Both Menner and Kuhlers reviewed the commitment they have available for utilities to expand services and to function as pass-through vehicles for funding for business and industry which will benefit the utility customers.
Menner also pointed to USDA programs aimed at rural housing.
This strikes a chord here, Kellogg said, because of the anticipated need for housing for Iowa Premium Beef employees when the plant reopens in Tama.
Kellogg said his office is currently in the process of setting up a meeting with local realtors to assess the housing inventory and he predicts a "crunch."
Upon opening Kellogg said IPB expects 600 meatpackers with that number increasing to nearly 1,000 in a couple of years.
Menner said USDA Rural Development is able to assist with 100 percent housing loans to qualified applicants.
Kellogg also said the availability of business financing was critical in Tama County.
He said many of the economic development officials he has met want to "go after the elephant" - companies with 1,000 employees.
His strategy centers upon recruiting business and industry which employ 15-25 persons and to locate them across all of the county.
He said he maintains this is realistic and offers an opportunity for families.
Kellogg said a University of Northern Iowa labor-shed study of Tama County is about to begin and this will be followed by a full analysis by UNI.