Earlier this month, acting USDA Rural Development Under Secretary Doug O’Brien heard one testimonial after another from a variety of people who thanked the federal government for providing funding and services to a portion of western North Dakota that was hard hit by outmigration two decades ago.
The area has been designated one of seven “Great Regions” in the nation by USDA Rural Development. However, sixteen years prior it was named a Rural Economic Area Partnership or a “REAP” pilot project by then-Senator Byron Dorgan. On February 16, a celebration was held in Dickinson that attracted the non-profit’s board members, community leaders, business owners, and USDA personnel who provided technical assistance over the years.
Mary Massad, CEO of the water pipeline that serves twelve counties held up a jar full of brown water to illustrate what the drinking supply was like in prior years. In sharp contrast, she toasted the USDA with a healthy glass of water taken from the pipeline that continues to receive federal money for expansion to cities, ranches and businesses. Kathleen Obritsch gave the history of the Roughrider long distance education system that now serves 500 sites providing twenty courses through a virtual high school to students in remote locations in the state.
The majority of speakers complimented a zero-percent interest micro-loan program that the Great Region non-profit created. It received less than $219,000 in government support to aid 38 businesses. Don Hedger, an aerospace manufacturer has created 300 jobs in a number of small towns in the region. He has hopes of expanding Killdeer Mountain Manufacturing if housing can be found for future employees. Josh Bearfield, the new warden of the women’s correction facility in New England, N.D. found it challenging to find a place to live in the ranching area but he’s proud of the 62 jobs created at the prison.
Outmigration is no longer an issue in western North Dakota thanks to the jobs created and the expansion of oil development. USDA Rural Development State Director, Jasper Schneider says Rural Development is financing new housing projects in Dickinson and he looks forward to helping the region tackle other unsolved issues.
To learn more about USDA’s Community and Regional Development efforts, click here.