Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry
State of Virginia
What can the USDA do for small towns?
USDA Rural Development is actually in the business of developing small towns, whether economically, addressing human resources in their town or job creation. USDA Rural Development has a plethora of tools that we can bring to small towns to help generate viable economic situation in their area.
We can do a lot. Essentially, what we like to say at USDA is we can actually create a small town through the tools and resources that we bring. Annually, we invest about $1.3 billion in the economy of rural Virginia each year. We have single-family housing programs. We bring multi-family housing programs, rental properties. We really focus on infrastructure – bringing wastewater projects to these rural areas. We focus on business creation. We have a rural business service. We have so many programs that could actually benefit rural Virginia and small towns across the Commonwealth. We’re here to help as we’re called upon in these rural areas.
What do you mean you could create a town?
Meaning, almost everything that you would need to have a fun, workable, livable community, all the amenities or attributes that you would need for a town, we could actually finance it or help find resources to bring to these rural towns. Broadband, which is a significant issue in many of the rural areas – we could help towns plan for broadband. We could help actually finance the land of the fiber optics. Things that every small town or small city would need, we can finance. We could find resources to make those things happen in these rural areas. Whether it’s creating jobs or helping people start businesses through our rural business services, what we try to do is develop an environment where people can work where they live, instead of live where they work. Right now, people have to go to where their jobs are. What we try to do is to create an environment where they can work, find employment, find something that’s contributing to the economy, and people can have a happy life where they are. Our focus is primarily on the rural areas and small towns across the Commonwealth of Virginia.
What is one thing you think mayors and town managers of small towns should know that they don’t know?
I’m not sure if they don’t know this, but it’s all about leadership. Improving the economics of a region, improving the quality of living, improving the healthcare, the education – it’s really about leadership. I’m sure that the mayors know this and that the small towns’ city councils know. I’m sure they know that leadership really speaks volumes about where a town can go. It’s all about the future of the town. It’s important to remember the past and the history of a town, but in this global economy, in this data-driven economy, it’s vitally important that we look towards the future. Look at what the work force and the landscape will be like in 10 years, 15 years, 20 years. Really plan toward that, even 30 and 50 years out. I grew up on a cattle farm in Buckingham, Virginia. We still own and operate that farm in Buckingham County, Virginia. We certainly cherish the history there, but it’s vitally important that we look forward, look at the new technologies and not stand on the side and let the parade go by because we do need the technology. We do need the broadband. We do need to embrace the new forms of healthcare that are being delivered, and the new forms of educating individuals in rural areas. We need to embrace some of the changes and some of the technology, and look towards the future. I think that’s what it’s about – leadership. Also, looking at regional approaches and how we can work together as a region, not just a town and town or a county and county. Look at how we can be collaborative and join forces to either attract business or help business grow, or provide housing. A lot of the political boundaries are man-made, but people on the other side of the county line have the same issues as the first county. I think it’s important that we look at regions, as well, when we look at economic development.
Can a mayor contact you? And if so, what is your contact information?
We would love for mayors to contact USDA Rural Development. We’re on the website – it’s www.rd.usda.gov/VA. Also our main number in Richmond is (804)-287-1550. That’s something we really want people to know. USDA, we’re open for business. We’re open for partnerships. We’re open to do collaborations. We want to work with you to achieve your economic development goals, or your community development goals. Whatever your goals are, we want to work with you. We’re really focusing on outreach and really getting the message out about what we do because we’re all committed to improving the lives of individuals in rural Virginia. We’re here to work with you. Please contact us and we can work together.
*At the time of his interview, Basil Gooden served as the state director (Virginia) for USDA Rural Development. He has since been appointed Virginia’s secretary of agriculture and forestry.