Weather Forecast


USDA Rural Development dollars help N.D., state director says

FARGO -- In the past year, the USDA Rural Development agency financed more than $900 million worth of infrastructure projects across North Dakota.

The money included about $200,000 in federal stimulus funds.

Jasper Schneider, state USDA Rural Development director, calls it a significant investment in North Dakota and he wants people to know about it.

"In my opinion, we're one of the better kept secrets in the state," said Schneider, a former state legislator from Fargo.

USDA Rural Development assistance comes in several forms, including grants, direct loans and loan guarantees.

Businesses, municipal water and environmental programs as well as homebuyers and community facilities like libraries and hospitals are among potential beneficiaries.

The list of projects receiving support is lengthy and includes the new Jamestown Regional Medical Center as well as a new fire hall in West Fargo.

About $46 million of the $52 million medical center project was financed through Rural Development, with $31 million of that a direct loan and $15 million in the form of loans guaranteed by the USDA, according to Schneider.

And medical center officials are grateful, said Alan O'Neil, chief financial officer for the hospital.

"The package we were able to obtain from the USDA made it possible for us to build the facility we did," O'Neil said, adding that the financing came at a time when traditional sources of capital were tight.

He said if financing had been based on normal market rates, "we probably would have ended up with less of a facility."

The project put more than 700 people to work and involved the services of 17 North Dakota companies, according to Schneider.

"You look at all the people who go to work on these things, it not only creates short term economic success, but lays the framework for long-term economic success," Schneider said.

But, he said, given the federal government's financial situation North Dakota will likely see fewer federal dollars in the future.

"That's just a reality that every federal agency is going to be dealing with," Schneider said.

He added, however, that even with anticipated cuts this year the state can expect to receive $400 million to $450 million.

Going forward, resources will be targeted to the projects most in need in the most underserved areas, according to Schneider, who added that even though agriculture and the oil sector remain strong, federal dollars are still important to the state.

"I think we're kidding ourselves if we don't think federal investment in North Dakota has been a big part of our overall success," Schneider said.

Dave Olson is a reporter at The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.