U.S. Ag Secretary Visits Bridgeport

G-14-2014 mccmc (Vilsack Visits Bridgeport)Pictured are U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, left, and Sullivan Town Supervisor John Becker.

Sewer District Project identified as National Example

(Town of Sullivan, NY – Aug. 2014) The Bridgeport Sewer District was recently nationally recognized as the representative project for rural infrastructure investment and economic development. U.S. Secretary of the Agriculture Tom Vilsack visited Bridgeport last month and used the visit to announce a $10 billion program to fund similar projects in the future.

Bridgeport was chosen over 49 other projects considered for the honor across the state.

Bob Engle, chief executive officer of CoBank, who accompanied Vilsack on his visit, said the needs of rural America are much greater than the resources available, and it is important to draw attention to the success stories of the investments of those resources, such as that of the Bridgeport Sewer District.

“Rural America has been left behind,” said Bob Engle of CoBank, one of the pledge partners in the new Rural Infrastructure Opportunity Fund. “These projects hold potential for tremendous growth, but they are capital-intense ventures, and we need to make people aware of the treasure that rural America is.”

Vilsack, who also serves as chairman of the White House Rural Council, said he and Engle have ties to the Upstate New York area, he having attended Hamilton College and Engle being a former Buffalo resident.

“We are aware of the needs here in Upstate New York,” Vilsack said.

He said those needs – which, if realized, could mean business and jobs growth – exceed the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s capacity to meet. That realization gave birth to the White House Rural Opportunity Investment Conference and creation and announcement of the Rural Infrastructure Opportunity Fund.

According to Vilsack, projects expected to be funded through the program include roads, bridges and broadband expansion. CoBank, a member of the Farm Credit System, has pledged an initial $10 billion to begin addressing rural infrastructure needs, and private entities will have the opportunity to invest in the fund, which will be managed by Capitol Peak Asset Management.

The USDA and other federal agencies will help to identify rural projects that may be financed through this new fund and other private sources. Vilsack said the more people who get interested in projects like this, the more leverage the fund will have with attracting investor interest.

“Meeting the world’s needs for food and farm products, as well as the growing demand in areas like renewable energy, local food and the bioeconomy will require continued investment in rural places,” Vilsack said. “Many major investors in urban centers aren’t always aware of the significant investment opportunities in rural communities. If the White House Rural Council can help facilitate even a small portion of the enormous amount of available investment capital into rural places, we can grow key industries and create jobs in rural and urban areas from coast to coast.”

He said the fund is intended primarily for large-scale projects and structures, such as hospitals, schools and other educational facilities, energy projects and local and regional food systems; however, smaller projects could be bundled together or with larger ones in order to benefit from the program.

“This is a new tool for local government,” Vilsack said. “When you invest in a project like Bridgeport’s, you create jobs, community stability, protect water quality and expand the opportunity for growth. This is a good project and reflective of the intent of this fund.”

Martha E. Conway is vice president of M3P Media, LLC, and publisher of the Madison County Courier. She can be reached at 315.813.0124 or by emailing martha@m3pmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/marthaeconway or Facebook at facebook.com/meconway.

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