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Greenville Business Magazine

Best Days Lie Ahead for the Rural Economy

May 10, 2022 04:23PM ● By Dr. Saundra Glover

Having spent most of my life in and around rural communities, I know firsthand the challenges many rural communities have experienced.

My parents, who were both educators, left their schools every day to come home and tend to our small family farm, because they loved the land, and they understood the importance of planting and watering the land to ensure it produced good crops.

Because of these early experiences and parents who modeled the call to service, I never forgot my rural roots, and have dedicated my life’s work to improving rural communities by using whatever platform I had to elevate the voices of all who call rural home. 

In my current role as State Director of Rural Development for South Carolina for just a little over six months, I am confident that our best days are indeed ahead of us as we renew our commitment to improve the rural economy and the overall quality of life in our rural communities. 

Recently, President Biden used his first State of the Union address to talk about where our country has been and where we are going.

The president mentioned a lot we can be proud of and even more to look forward to, especially in rural America.

The country has faced deep challenges over the past year, and the people of rural America know this better than anyone. 

But rural communities are resilient, and as the success of rural America goes, so goes the rest of the country.

That’s why the progress we have made in rural South Carolina over the past year is a good sign for everyone. By investing in water infrastructure and broadband, rural business opportunities and the American food supply chain, USDA is helping communities build a foundation for sustained economic growth.

For example, Saluda County Water and Sewer Authority has received 19 loans totaling over $66 million and nine grants totaling over $20 million. 

The Water and Sewer Authority’s most recent project is for Phase II of the Holley Ferry/Spann Road Water Improvements. 

For this project, the Water and Sewer Authority will receive a $15.4 million loan and a $2.5 million Water and Environmental Programs (WEP) Grant to position a network of waterlines throughout the densely populated eastern side of Saluda County. The Holley Ferry Phase II project will allow for a significant expansion of residential customers.

It is conservatively estimated that an additional 300 homes will receive service from this. However, there are over 700 homes along the proposed water lines so there could be many more sign-ups.

Considering that SCWSA has roughly 1,300 residential customers, this represents a significant boost in customers. In addition, this project has the potential to provide water connections to nearby towns. This could transform SCWSA from a local provider of water to a regional supplier.

Orangeburg County has received two loans totaling $3.6 million and two grants totaling $2.3 million for water projects. 

In addition, the county has received four loans totaling $10.5 million and four grants totaling $8.1 million for sewer projects. 

Most recently, the Orangeburg County Goodbys Creek WWTP and Improvements received a $6.7 million WEP loan and a $1.9 million WEP Grant. 

This project provided needed wastewater treatment to the rural town and areas of Orangeburg County. The county proposed to construct a wastewater treatment plant, which provided sewer service to residential areas and commercial users along US Highway 301, in the town of Santee, Matthews Industrial Park and Jafza Industries. 

Through the Food Supply Chain Guaranteed Loan Program and the Meat and Poultry Processing Expansion Program, we’re answering the president’s call to create more resilient, diverse, and secure supply chains. Promoting competition in the processing sector will lead to fairer prices for farmers, greater value for workers, and more affordable and healthier food produced closer to home for families.

These investments create jobs and economic opportunities in rural areas. They help grow the economy from the bottom up and middle out like the president talked about. And they contribute to a circular economy where the resources and wealth we build in rural South Carolina stay right here in South Carolina.

In the State of the Union, President Biden committed to build a national network of 500,000 electric vehicle charging stations, begin to replace poisonous lead pipes — so every child — and every American — has clean water to drink at home and at school, provide affordable high-speed internet for every American — urban, suburban, rural, and tribal communities.

Under the historic Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, USDA Rural Development will be able to provide funding for the ReConnect Program, which will contribute to broadband deployment in rural areas and underserved communities. We will also work in partnership with other agencies in a coordinated effort at the state level to rebuild rural America.  

The Biden-Harris Administration’s plan for the economy is already producing historic wins, and there’s room for everyone to participate, no matter their zip code.

That’s why we’re optimistic that our best days lie ahead.

By giving everyone a fair shot and providing equitable access to federal resources, we can do our part to carry out the President’s economic vision. That means making more things here at home, strengthening our supply chains and lowering costs for working families. It means giving people opportunities to make a good living without having to leave the communities they know and love.

For a lot of us, that means staying right here in rural South Carolina. 

Dr. Saundra Glover is South Carolina state director for USDA Rural Development.