Senator Brown and Secretary Vilsack

ZANESVILLE, OHIO  – U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) joined U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary (USDA) Tom Vilsack and U.S. Rep. Zack Space today to hold a community forum in Zanesville as part of the Obama Administration’s Rural Tour.

“For too long, Ohio’s small towns and rural communities were overlooked,” Brown said. “We’re working to change that by making the federal government a partner in creating new jobs and economic activity in small towns. By investing in broadband, clean energy, and water infrastructure, we can make communities in Ohio competitive in the 21st century.”

Brown, the first Ohioan to serve on the Senate Agriculture Committee in more than 40 years and chairman of the Senate Agriculture Subcommittee on Hunger, Nutrition and Family Farms, outlined federal efforts to promote economic development in rural Ohio through investment in broadband, water and sewer infrastructure, and clean energy.

Ohio received $362.5 million in recovery funds through the USDA. USDA recovery funds help expand opportunities and spur economic development in rural communities through loans and grants that support broadband, water infrastructure, economic development, and job creation. Ohio communities also received $867,825 through USDA’s Rural Development Community Facilities Program, which supports facilities or infrastructure intended for public use in rural regions. Ohio programs that received assistance included hospitals, police stations, libraries, and airports. It is estimated that every dollar the USDA invests in recovery funds stimulates $1.84 in economic activity. 

Brown is working to connect small businesses in the region with access to credit and other funding opportunities from the economic recovery legislation. Brown’s office recently conducted a workshop at Kent State-Tuscarawas with Small Business Administration (SBA) officials to help small businesses in the region learn about economic recovery funding.

The senator also discussed his efforts to expand rural broadband access in rural areas. The higher cost of providing broadband access in less-populated areas has created a “digital divide,” undermining economic development and online educational opportunities in rural communities. The median revenue among broadband-connected businesses in Ohio grew twice as fast as those that do not use broadband, according to a study by ConnectOhio. In July, Brown brought USDA Undersecretary Dallas Tonsager to Ohio to connect potential broadband providers with information on economic recovery funds to expand rural broadband. Brown successfully fought to include $7.2 billion in the economic recovery package to expand broadband access in unserved and underserved communities. The funds are expected to create jobs and promote long-term economic growth while encouraging investment in infrastructure and technology.

Brown is also leading the fight to provide assistance to communities that need to make renovations to outdated water and sewer systems. Brown authored The Clean Water Affordability Act with Sen. George V. Voinovich (R-OH). This bipartisan legislation is aimed at updating the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) clean water affordability policy, which puts undue strain on the budgets of local communities. The Clean Water Affordability Act authorizes $1.8 billion over five years for a matching grant program to help financially distressed communities update their aging infrastructure.
Finally, Brown outlined how legislation he authored, the Investments for Manufacturing Progress and Clean Technology (IMPACT) Act of 2009, would help manufacturers retool for the clean energy industry. Space was instrumental in including provisions of the IMPACT Act in the House-passed clean energy bill. The bill would create a $30 billion Manufacturing Revolving Loan Fund to provide small and mid-sized manufacturers with much-needed access to credit. The fund, distributed by each state, would allow small and medium-sized manufacturers to improve energy efficiency, retool for the clean energy industry, and expand our nation’s clean energy manufacturing operations.