USDA funds boost small businesses in Carlton CountyThe machine that prints the giant presentation checks for Minnesota’s United States Rural Development program was out of commission this week, so State Director Colleen Landkamer presented a plaque instead to Carlton County officials. That didn’t mean Monday’s $99,000 grant award to the county was any less significant, she assured them with a smile.
By: Wendy Johnson, Pine Journal
The machine that prints the giant presentation checks for Minnesota’s United States Rural Development program was out of commission this week, so State Director Colleen Landkamer presented a plaque instead to Carlton County officials. That didn’t mean Monday’s $99,000 grant award to the county was any less significant, she assured them with a smile.
In fact, Landkamer applauded the county for accomplishing what no other county in the state has done before – earn its third USDA grant award in the past three years, for a total of some $400,000.
Monday’s Rural Business Enterprise Grant (RBEG) will help establish a revolving loan fund in the county accessible to small rural businesses, distance learning projects and adult education programs. Carlton County will provide $50,000 in matching funds.
According to Pat Oman, Carlton County economic development director, businesses eligible for the loans must either plan new building projects, increase tax revenue and/or add new jobs in the county.
“The exciting thing is,” said Oman, “as each loan is repaid the money will come back to the county and we will then be able to make additional loans to other businesses. Our goal is to use this money quickly and keep it going.”
Carlton County received a similar USDA grant for $99,000 in 2010 and a USDA Intermediary Relending Program loan in the amount of $196,000 in 2011. Oman said several local businesses have benefited from the loan financing thus far resulting in the creation of over 30 new jobs in the county.
“There is a real demand for this type of gap financing among our county’s small businesses,” said Oman.
Business owner Chris Matthews of Advanced Design and Awnings was on hand at Monday’s USDA presentation, and he offered a few words about what the county’s USDA-backed revolving loan program has meant to him and his business. He said he was able to not only build up his business and hire 4.5 FTE employees, but added, “August was the best month we’ve ever had. Cloquet’s been good to us this year.”
Dan and Sue Benzie of Benzie Properties said with the help of the revolving loan fund, they were able to build a third assisted living facility in the county.
“The USDA dollars have been an important part of our building and growth phase,” said Dan Benzie, “and they have helped us leverage loan money locally.”
He said as soon as the new facility was opened, they had five residents move in immediately, filled up completely within three months and had established a lengthy waiting list after six months.
The new assisted living project resulted in the hiring of 15 employees and the expansion of services for the company.
Terry and Char Barnes will also add 15-16 new employees when they open their new 14-bed assisted living facility in Esko in coming months. The project utilized the local USDA funding to help finance the construction of that facility, which is the Barneses’ third.
“This is a true case of government working for business and people,” commented Terry Barnes.
Also on hand at Monday’s USDA presentation were representatives from the offices of Senator Amy Klobuchar and Senator Al Franken.
“This loan program is about the retention and expansion of jobs, which are the backbone of the nation’s economy,” said Pete Mackowski of Franken’s office. “You folks are on the front line, and you will find a willing partner in the USDA.”
Klobuchar representative Jerry Fallos added, “This is a great example of what we can achieve with a strong rural development fund.”
Landkamer said the USDA feels it is critical to grow small business in this country.
“Without investing in rural America,” she said, “none of us will thrive or grow. It’s about having jobs we’re proud of…and about growing our communities through our businesses. I look forward to many years of prosperity in Carlton County.”