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Published January 07 2013

Editorial: A federal ‘stimulus’ that works

Despite what some North Dakotans crow about the state paying its own way because of newfound oil-soaked prosperity, the role of federal dollars in the state’s economy cannot be minimized. One of the obvious examples is the work in recent years of USDA Rural Development, an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In December, State Director Jasper Schneider released the 2012 Progress Report. The document confirms the agency’s vital role in supporting North Dakota’s rural economy. The list of recipients of the agency’s loans and grants also underscores that when it comes to “takin’ that durn federal money,” politics and ideology are readily compromised.

The projects and organizations that have benefited from grants and/or loans range from small to sizable. For example, a small meatpacker got nearly $50,000 (grant) as working capital to assist with start-up costs for a meat-packing plant. Several individuals got grants ranging from $11,000 to $48,000 for grain dryer replacement.

On the larger end, a regional power cooperative got a loan of $308.7 million to build a transmission line and install smart-grid technology. A small city got a loan/grant total of $4.9 million for sewer and water line replacement. An energy systems company got a $4.8 million loan to purchase machinery and build a building. A developer got a $7.3 million loan to build a hotel in oil country.

When it’s all added up, the total for loans and grants and other supports is in the hundreds of millions of dollars, just for fiscal year 2012 (Oct. 1, 2011 through Sept. 20, 2012). Last year’s fiscal year showed even greater amounts flowing into North Dakota’s rural economy.

Often the loans are required for projects to proceed because private lenders are reluctant to take a risk without the federal money on the table. So developers and rural officials can leverage private money because of USDA Rural Development’s participation. Indeed, without the federal role, many projects would not proceed. That would have been the situation in recent years with the new Jamestown hospital and health care facilities expansions and improvements in Williston.

The irony in all this is that the agency can do what is has been doing so effectively because it is using so-called “stimulus” funding. That’s the federal money that has been savaged by some of the same people whose communities have benefited from the money, including legislators who decry the stimulus, but seem to have no problem taking center stage at ribbon-cuttings for stimulus-funded projects in their towns.

USDA Rural Development is doing good work in North Dakota. So good, in fact, that even partisan ideologues who “just hate” all that federal spending, eagerly line up to get some.


Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.