A three day visit to Missouri, the “Show Me State” allowed me to join Janie Dunning, Rural Development State Director, to see how rural areas benefiting from infrastructure investments made possible through USDA Rural Development programs and American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (Recovery Act) financing.
My trip started on Wednesday, May 18, 2011, with a visit to Socket Telecom, LLC in Columbia, MO. We learned of their progress on a $23.7 million Rural Utilities Recovery Act investment for high speed fiber-to-the-home broadband access to 2,700 homes, 36 critical community institutions and 270 businesses in Callaway County. That afternoon, as a member of President Obama’s White House Business Council on “Winning the Future,” I facilitated a roundtable discussion with 20 community and business leaders of Mexico, MO, hosted by Frank Cordie of Mid America Brick. When you think of “bricks and mortar” for cementing economic development, there is no better place than in America’s heartland at a brick plant. I gathered feedback on ways we can help businesses expand, create jobs, and improve the economic base in their area. The roundtable was followed by a very interesting tour of the brick plant to see how the $10 million from the agency’s Business and Industry guaranteed funds was being used to bring this regional business icon back to life.
The next day, I joined Missouri Governor Jay Nixon for a “light up” ceremony at Ralls County Electric Cooperative (RCEC). They were celebrating the construction and hooking up the first customers of $19.1 million project, funded by USDA under the Recovery Act, to serve 4,600 households, 300 business and 58 anchor institutions in northeast Missouri. I found most interesting is that the RCEC is reinvesting 10 percent of their earnings from the broadband investment for economic development opportunities for individuals and businesses in their service area. This ceremony was followed by a working lunch to discuss other broadband opportunities with Damon Porter, Governor Nixon’s point-man on broadband.
My next stop was to Ralls County Ralls County Public Water Supply District No. 1 to visit the site of water improvements including a new 250,000 gallon water tower. Janie and I grabbed paint brushes and assisted with painting the water tower support. Yes, that was a first for me. That evening the Missouri state office staff hosted me in a discussion with Barry Hart, CEO of the Association of Electric Cooperatives and other electric cooperative leaders to talk about partnering strategies to assist rural Missourians.
My third day, included a tour of USDA funded Water and Wastewater projects in Howard County. First stop was to a state of the art, environmentally friendly lagoon at the City of Fayette. I was very impressed with this new technology and treatment of waste water. One of the stages in the water treatment includes a process in a lagoon covered with a heavy duty rubberized material. I made a closer inspection of the rubberized material and verified that it was strong enough for opportunity for me to “walk on (waste) water”! This may be a first for an Administrator.
The next stop was to see another investment to the City of Fayette for improvements to their water system including the construction of a new water tower. The last stop was for a celebration of strategies supported by President Obama and Secretary Vilsack for regionalization. The Howard County Regional Water Commission was established as a regional water waste supply and treatment system to serve three public water systems in the southern part of Howard County including: the City of Fayette, the City of New Franklin and Howard County PWSD No. 1.
It was definitely a packed three days but gave me a great appreciation for the hard work that the Missouri Rural Development staff perform in administering programs and “yes” they did “Show Me” some wonderful examples of our programs benefiting rural Missourians!