Economic and workforce development probably aren’t the first things that come to mind when you think of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), but at USDA Rural Development assisting small businesses is one of our primary missions. We are dedicated to helping West Virginia businesses through job creation and the expansion of entrepreneurial opportunities in the rural places they live.
So, just how is USDA supporting rural entrepreneurs and investing in small businesses? At Rural Development we’re doing this through programs such as our Value-Added Producer Grant (VAPG) program, which helps agricultural producers enter value-added activities to generate new products, create and expand marketing opportunities, and increase producer income.
Last year, through the VAPG program, we awarded $249,660 to Mountain Steer Meat Company in Greenbrier County. This investment was used to assist with the development and start-up of a retail location. The funding allowed Mountain Steer to not only create new jobs but make fresh, locally raised, and processed beef readily accessible to consumers in West Virginia. We are currently accepting applications for the VAPG program.
We’re also helping entrepreneurs and businesses bolster their bottom line with the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP), the program provides eligible small businesses with grant funding to make energy efficiency upgrades at their operations or to install renewable energy systems. REAP will receive an additional $2 billion in funding over the next decade through President Biden’s historic legislative package, the Inflation Reduction Act. Thanks to this additional funding, maximum grant sizes are doubled to $500,000 for energy efficiency grants and $1 million for renewable energy systems.
In December 2022, we awarded $69,128 to Handley House, Inc. in Marshall County. The funds are being used to purchase and install LED lighting and a new heating and air conditioning system. This project will help this small rural business save $7,738 per year in energy costs. Applications for the REAP program are currently being accepted, and rural businesses are encouraged to reach out to Rural Development staff and find out how this program can help them reduce their utility expenses.
We’re also here to support business expansion in our rural areas. For instance, our Business and Industry Loan Guarantee program offers loan guarantees to lenders for their commercial loans to rural businesses. Eligible entities for a B&I guaranteed loan are for-profit business or non-profit businesses, cooperatives, public bodies, federally recognized Tribes, and individuals engaged or proposing to engage in business activities and business development. The loans can be used for business acquisition, purchase and development of land, equipment, inventory, and debt refinancing for cash flow.
In 2021, Mountaintop Beverage, LLC in Monongalia County was provided $25 million in guaranteed loan funds to help it purchase processing and packaging equipment. In 2022, Fort Henry, LLC received a $1,896,888 million loan guarantee which is being used to restore the historic Fort Henry building in Wheeling. These are just a few examples of our we support new and existing businesses across the Mountain State.
Fostering a strong business climate and providing resources for new businesses is crucial to their success. At Rural Development we’re assisting communities with this through programs such as the Rural Business Development Grant Program, which supports technical assistance and training for small rural businesses, the creation of entrepreneurship incubators, assists with the acquisition and redevelopment of publicly owned land and buildings used to spur economic development, the creation of workforce training programs, and so much more. In October 2022, we awarded $65,000 to the Little Kanawha Development Corporation in Wirt County to create a centrally located space to be a focal point for entrepreneurial activity to accelerate the growth of existing small businesses by providing resources, networks, and support required for them to raise capital and be sustainable ventures.
Supporting entrepreneurs is about more than just financial assistance. Starting a business can be intimidating and it can be difficult figuring out where to begin. That’s why Rural Development has created a Resource Guide for Rural Entrepreneurs designed to help rural entrepreneurs start and grow businesses, create good-paying jobs and strengthen West Virginia’s economy. We also created a Resource Guide for Rural Workforce Development, which contains info rural communities need to start and expand employment opportunities and create a sustainable workforce.
West Virginia’s rural entrepreneurs and small businesses are critical to the success of our nation’s economy. USDA Rural Development is committed to advocating for rural business owners and building brighter futures for everyone in rural West Virginia. We do this because when rural communities succeed, West Virginia succeeds, when West Virginia succeeds, our nation succeeds and by continuing to work together, West Virginia will continue to prosper.