Rural broadband improvements welcome in southwest Michigan

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Despite the challenges of COVID-19, USDA Rural Development had a phenomenal year in Michigan during 2020. Throughout our program areas, we invested more than $1.1 billion in our rural cities, townships and villages.

Perhaps even more striking than the amount was the focus of those investment dollars in durable, long-term infrastructure projects. As someone who has worked for many years to remedy shortfalls in rural telecommunications, this was one area where 2020 brought a pleasant surprise.

Southwest Michigan Communications Inc. received a $3.3 million grant and a $3.3 million loan to deploy a fiber-to-the-premises network to connect 3,203 people, 40 farms and 27 businesses to high-speed broadband internet in Van Buren, Kalamazoo and Allegan counties.

Barry County Services Company received an $11.8 million loan/grant combination to provide affordable, fiber-based broadband services in rural Barry County. This project will extend broadband availability to 17 farms, 16 businesses and 12,000 residents spread over 127 square miles.

In addition to building lines, USDA helped finance end-user projects as well. Ferris State University received a $669,216 grant to create a system that establishes classrooms equipped with virtual reality in 17 rural high schools and three career and technical education centers located in Benzie, Isabella, Kent, Lake, Mason, Mecosta, Missaukee, Montcalm, Oceana, Osceola and Wexford counties.

The investments didn’t end there. Michigan received more than $138 million for 65 projects to expand access to safe drinking water and improve wastewater management systems, as well as $25 million for 129 investments for emergency vehicles, municipal buildings, road upgrades and other improvements.

These projects varied widely, from a few thousand dollars for life-saving police protective vests for the Village of Nashville to more than $8.3 million for Kalamazoo County’s Oshtemo Charter Township to expand the sewer collection system to unserved areas. The first of three phases, the project includes 898 new residential and commercial customers and will address the areas with the most imminent need for sewer collection and treatment due to failing septic systems.

In addition to working with utilities and local communities, USDA worked directly with individuals and businesses to build rural prosperity.

More than 6,000 families purchased homes in rural Michigan thanks to USDA direct loans or loan guarantees through a participating lender. This added almost $800 million to the state economy.

In addition, 127 rural businesses used our programs to finance renewable energy, improve energy efficiency or allow business development and expansion, with a total investment of more than $36 million.

These investments make Michigan families safer, provide cleaner water, protect the environment and improve the quality of life for rural communities across the state. At USDA we understand that when rural America prospers, we all do better.

With offices across the state, we are ready to assist local governments, business and individuals. To learn more about how we can help you, visit our website at www.rd.usda.gov/mi.

Jason Allen is the USDA Rural Development state director for Michigan.

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