How Co-ops Can Help Create JobsBy Michael W. Kahn | ECT Staff Writer Published: March 30th, 2011
There’s a program that’s been around awhile, but remains mysterious to some co-ops. It’s the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Economic Development Loan and Grant program, or REDLG. To help educate co-ops, the National Rural Economic Developers Association recently held the first in a series of workshops, also sponsored by NRECA and CFC.
Under the program, USDA provides zero-interest loans to utilities which, in turn, pass the funds through to local businesses and other groups that create jobs in rural areas. Among the most active co-ops in the REDLG program is East River Electric Power Cooperative.
“We’ve been doing this almost since the program began, but really strongly since the mid-1990s. We’ve loaned over $47 million to business and community projects using the REDLG program as a base,” said Linda Salmonson, economic development manager at the Madison, S.D.-based G&T. “This is a really great way for cooperatives to get involved in economic development at the local level.”
Salmonson’s co-presenter at the Texas workshops was Bruce Nuzum, vice president, finance, at Iowa Area Development Group, which serves businesses interested in locating or expanding within the territories of the state’s electric co-ops and municipal utilities. Nuzum said the workshops provide an A-to-Z insight of what’s involved in REDLG.
“We start out with basic background and working knowledge of the program—how it works, what needs to be considered by the board, the typical questions your board is going to ask,” said Nuzum. “Linda and I have been working with the program for 15-plus years, so we’ve got lots of examples and we can probably answer about any question out there.”
Salmonson noted that the workshops stimulate ideas among co-ops about what they can do in their own communities. “I would suggest that not every co-op will do this,” she said, “but we certainly want to give them the opportunity.”
Dana J. Baker, NREDA second vice president, noted that officials in Texas want electric and telephone utilities to work better together for the local good. “The REDLG program is a great tool for them to start partnering up and improving their communities,” Baker said.
NREDA is looking into dates and locations for future workshops.