Last month, I joined Secretary Vilsack in announcing National Small Business Week on behalf of the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Louisiana. In support of rural small businesses, USDA announced several funding opportunities across the country for business owners to increase their capacity to hire new workers and expand their businesses. Small Businesses are the lifeblood of every community, but in a rural town one small business can mean the difference between a thriving main street and empty windows. This is why the work that USDA does on behalf of rural America is so important.
The state office for Rural Development is located in Central Louisiana where I met State Director Clarence Hawkins and his staff before we headed out to visit local businesses. The first stop was Consolidated Energy Holdings in Pollock. A variety of waste sources is produced by the company. Later, I had the opportunity to speak at the Cenla Small Business Appreciation Luncheon at the Central Louisiana Business Incubator in Alexandria. I was so inspired by the business incubator, which the city started as a workforce training facility for those with the desire to grow and expand their businesses. The incubator provides business owners with growth strategies, financing options, resources, and administrative support to name a few. There is an industrial kitchen available to use for food based business opportunities and specialty food producers. This incubator is the epitome of what small communities across rural America should be doing, making investments in their own citizens to foster job growth.
After the appreciation luncheon, we visited Manchac Technologies, which manufactures pharmaceutical medication dispensers for use in nursing homes. This project was a good example of entrepreneurship and how niche markets can produce strong returns on investments, as well as a stable manufacturing sector in the community. Another business I visited was All Hours Fitness; a small exercise facility located in downtown Many, Louisiana. This project symbolized the rejuvenation of the downtown community by promoting healthy living choices. It was great to see the younger generation out enjoying the facility in the center of Main Street.
En route to New Orleans, we stopped in Simmesport, Zachary, Covington, and finally Abita Springs to host a meeting with local lenders and banks regarding the challenges and opportunities in accessing capital in rural areas. I always try to meet with lenders during my visits because it is vital to hear directly from them on the challenges rural America faces in accessing available capital.
On the last leg of my tour, I visited the Hollygrove Food Market and Farm. This market is a major food hub for the city of New Orleans. The local food supply chain comes from numerous farms outside of the city. It is amazing how much the local and regional food market has expanded in popularity over the last couple of years; it is really growing from the ground-up to become a major force in the agriculture sector. This is why we are continuing to promote local foods as a way to not only increase healthy food options, but also to create a sustainable marketplace for producers and vendors.
While touring through the small communities of Louisiana, I saw firsthand the difference that USDA Rural Development is making in creating jobs and building vibrant communities. The people in Louisiana show a strong commitment to the rural way of life, and I know that USDA will continue to help entrepreneurs there develop their ideas into thriving businesses.
To find out more about USDA business programs and how they can help you achieve your goals click here.