Representing Development

JOHNSTOWN-Representatives from the United States Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development Office spoke with local business representatives and farmers at Fulton-Montgomery Community College Wednesday about programs that may be able to help them.

U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, and U.S. Rep. Bill Owens, D-Plattsburgh, were on hand at the event, part of the New York Rural Roundtable Summit, to speak with attendees.

According to Tonko, the roundtables were established by the USDA’s Rural Development Office to get program information out to the people who can benefit from them.

Tonko said these programs offer assistance and grants for non-profit organizations, businesses and municipalities.

“Everything from broadband [Internet] to utility infrastructure, water and sewer infrastructure to renewables to housing and buildings,” Tonko said.

Representatives from many groups in the Mohawk Valley split among three lecture rooms during the roundtable, listening to presentations from the Farm Service Agency, Cornell Cooperative Extension, N.Y. Environmental Facilities Corporation and Farm Credit East.

“Last year, we saw $400 million in investment through the USDA, so it is a great way to provide a shot in the arm for our rural counties and communities and aid in that economic recovery,” Tonko said.

He stressed the importance of the informational meetings.

“These are great programs, but they don’t get utilized unless people are aware [of them],” Tonko said.

Owens said that as he drove into Johnstown, he saw much of the farmland surrounding both the cities and local towns.

“Any opportunity I can support local farmers, I’ll take,” he said.

Owens, who served as a member of the Agricultural Committee in the House of Representatives, stressed the importance of these programs and the recently passed 2014 Farm Bill.

“In the Farm Bill, there are some funds for rural, small farm development,” Owens said.

Lee Telega, USDA Rural Development’s state director, said housing, business and infrastructure development could drive rural communities to more economic growth.

“What we are doing is bringing all the players together,” Telega said. “We just wanted to bring all the state and local agencies together and focus on development.”

Fulton County Senior Planner Sean Geraghty said, in general, the roundtable gave him a quick overview of what was available for the county.

“We’re going to go back to our offices and sit down and have a meeting ourselves; we [have] got to look up these programs. We have to think of the projects we want to do or the issues we want to pursue and how they fit in with the rules and regulations of these programs,” Geraghty said.