LOGANSPORT — Most counties in Indiana are considered generally rural.
According to Indiana State University, 72 of Indiana’s 92 counties are rural in nature. Those small communities contribute to the economy, which is why the USDA has been investing in businesses in rural communities since 2008.
"When you look at this, we understand that it's the rural businesses that drives the engine for our economy,” Anthony Kirkland, Business Program Director for USDA in Indiana, said. “So, rural small businesses are a very vital part. We try to make sure we are playing a role in and helping to support them."
One way the USDA has been doing that is through the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP). With the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, $2 billion was dedicated to the program.
One of the businesses benefiting from the funding is New Holland, a farming equipment company in Logansport. The investments are helping the rural business generate new income and lower energy costs.
"The rays that we have here will make the same energy that we use in a 12-month period of a year, " Jim Straeter, President of New Holland Logansport, said.
The company was awarded $46,025 to install solar panels. This project saves the business $5,831 annually and replaces 59,424 kilowatt hours (kWh) annually. It will help the business be more energy efficient and reduce their carbon footprint.
Sustainability is something the owner of the business says he and other farmers are passionate about.
"We are interested in being environmentally responsible, that's part of what we do,” Straeter said. “I can't wait for the electric pickup truck to come along, we will start trading some of our diesel and gas trucks in."
Straeter's family has been running farming equipment stores since 1984. They started with one store and have now grown to seven. The company recently expanded to start providing solar installation, which has created jobs in rural areas across the state.
"The people that work for us don't have doctorate degrees, they are hands-on out in the country,” Straeter said. “We install through the winter. We've got one crew in Evansville today. We've got another crew in the very northwest corner of Illinois building systems for rural businesses."
Straeter says these grant investments can help save rural communities and keep them thriving for years to come
"There are too many towns that have died over the last several decades, so we need to take care of what is left and make sure we responsibly maintain the infrastructure and have policies that allow rural businesses to succeed,” Straeter said.
The Rural Energy for America Program funds about 505 energy projects that rural businesses want to complete. Because of increased funding the program is able to provide more money than ever before, according to the USDA.
The IUSDA accepts applications year-round. Rural business owners in Indiana interested in applying should email Jamie.firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information about the program, click here.