These are difficult economic times for everyone, but economic challenges are magnified in rural areas. The good news is that, thanks in part to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, we have made significant strides in getting our economy back on the right track. Recovery Act investments have not only helped Minnesota’s rural economy in the short term, but will also continue to pay off well into the future. I’d like to share one of the best examples.
The city of Adrian, located in Nobles County in the far southwestern corner of the state, recently used Recovery Act funds to establish a telepharmacy.
For most of its 130-year existence, Adrian enjoyed the services of a hometown pharmacy. Unfortunately, the pharmacy closed in 2008. A hometown pharmacy meant that seniors in the town of 1,250 people did not have to travel far to fill prescriptions. It also helped draw people to other local businesses downtown.
Using a $100,000 Recovery Act grant through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Rural Development mission area, Adrian was recently able to establish a telepharmacy downtown. Using video, audio and data technology, a pharmacist at a central location in nearby Worthington oversees the filling and verifying of prescriptions by a technician at the telepharmacy in Adrian. Images captured at the remote location allow the pharmacist to review, approve and document all transactions. One-on-one patient consultations are also conducted using the ScriptPro® Telepharmacy technology.
Preserved jobs, retained a service
The telepharmacy is a little bit different from what most Adrian residents are used to, but so far it’s been extremely successful. The project has preserved jobs in the area and retained a service that improves the quality of life for residents.
The Adrian telepharmacy isn’t the only success story; in the past two years, USDA Rural Development invested almost $675 million in Recovery Act funds throughout rural Minnesota. Investments include:
• $330 million to help over 2,600 individuals and families buy a home or refinance existing home loans;
• $195 million to deliver high-speed broadband Internet services to 164,000 rural homes, 11,500 businesses and 685 essential community facilities;
• $85 million to improve or replace 26 water and wastewater treatment systems;
• $36 million to provide loan guarantees that allowed nine businesses to create or save about 750 jobs;
• $31 million to build or repair 33 essential community facilities such as hospitals, community centers and libraries;
• $1 million in Rural Business Enterprise Grants to assist small rural businesses with gap financing.
These investments immediately created jobs during construction periods. They also establish a base for long-term economic development and more jobs. Rural communities that have modern wastewater treatment systems, high-speed broadband, modern hospitals, and prevalent home ownership are more attractive places to live, start a business and raise a family.
Why USDA is involved with these issues
I am often asked why the USDA is involved with business development, home ownership, high-speed Internet and infrastructure development in rural communities. Many people assume that the USDA works exclusively in farm programs or food inspection.
While agriculture and food safety remains a vital part of our rural economy, today’s rural communities have to become more economically diverse in order to compete in a global marketplace. It is essential that we provide our rural areas with tools and resources necessary to remain competitive and viable.
Rural Development programs support small businesses, health-care facilities, housing, infrastructure and other economic development efforts in rural areas. Our programs help build strong rural communities that, when combined with the agricultural sector of the economy, create new job opportunities and a higher quality of life in our small cities.
The Recovery Act helped us reach more people, more businesses and more communities than ever before. With Recovery Act funds, we have financed everything from a new nursing home in Fergus Falls, a new fire truck in Tintah, and a manufacturing facility in Bagley, to high-speed Internet connectivity in Lake County and a new water treatment system in Granite Falls.
The residents of Adrian are seeing firsthand the benefits of the Recovery Act. Many other rural communities throughout Minnesota are seeing it as well.
Colleen Landkamer is the state director of USDA Rural Development in Minnesota.