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HILLSVILLE — Almost $86 million in federal funding from Rural Development is something to celebrate, but there was a blank where the money for Carroll County Public School's Phase III was expected to be.
Carroll County officials declared Aug. 6 USDA-Rural Development Celebration Day, and they invited 9th District Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Abingdon) and Cheryl Cook, deputy undersecretary of USDA, to be the main speakers.
County officials threw a bash with more than 400 guests expected at the Southwest Virginia Farmers Market in recognition of the many things that Rural Development has done for Carroll in providing $66.8 million in loans and $19.1 million in grants for a wide variety of local projects.
But on the chart that broke down the funding into various categories — water and sewer, vehicle, playground projects, etc. — county officials whited out the line item for the money to renovate and expand the intermediate and high school.
The celebration came and went as Carroll officials still await word on whether the $26.7 million of Rural Development funding and Build America Bonds through the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act will come through.
Two months ago, the Carroll Board of Supervisors teamed up with the county's Industrial Development Authority and the school system to apply for the funding from Rural Development.
Travis Jackson, regional director of the federal agency, explained to The Gazette that the application has gone to the national office for consideration. "The IDA and county board and the school board have done everything they're supposed to do," he said, standing in front of several school buses bought with a Rural Development loan. "Now we're awaiting word that funding is available from the national office."
Virginia has already spent its entire Rural Development allocation for the year, Jackson explained. In fact, the federal agency usually spends about $300 million in the state but this year injected $1 billion into the Virginia economy.
So funding for the schools will have to come from the federal pool of dollars.
Jackson still feels good about Carroll County's chances. "We're doing everything in our power to ensure success," he told The Gazette.
Before the crowd assembled under a tent in the parking lot at the farmers' market — another item paid for through Rural Development, as supervisors' Chairman Wes Hurst had noted — Boucher welcomed Cook to Hillsville, and the congressman thanked her for all the federal agency has done for the area.
Rural Development has many programs through which it has provided financial support to Carroll, including public water and sewer systems, support for business, housing, schools, fire departments, rescue squads and community centers.
"It is truly fitting that Cheryl's visit to the 9th District comes to Carroll County because no county has benefited from Rural Development programs more than we have here in Carroll," he said. "As a matter of fact, over the course of the last 20 years, Carroll County has obtained more than $86 million in funding from the Rural Development agency for a host of activities."
Of that, about $40 million has been directed toward water and sewer systems meant to promote commercial and residential growth around Carroll's Interstate 77 interchanges.
"Those exits are the prime locations across this county for economic growth and development and the creation of new jobs," Boucher said. "They sit astride the interstate, they are within about 10 miles of the intersection of Interstate 81…
"You couldn't have a better location anywhere in the United States to put an industry and create jobs," he said.
The Rural Development funding is making that possible, he continued. Within days of announcing funding for infrastructure improvements at Exit 1, for example, Love's truck stop officials made public their plan to build a facility there and create 40 jobs.
Another $8 million in funding will go to Fancy Gap, to carry out needed water and sewer improvements to help make that attractive community more of a tourist destination, Boucher said.
With Wildwood Commerce Park being developed at Exit 19, Boucher said tremendous economic development strides have been made there, too.
Besides making investments in the park, the federal government has helped supply financing assistance for water and sewer systems, as well as funding Carroll's partnership with Wythe County to use the New River at Austinville as a sustainable water source.
This will feed most of the public water systems in Carroll County, he noted. "There was a real question about where that water source would be, there was a real need to make sure we had a long-term water source in order to enable growth and development to take place here…"
Boucher also took the opportunity to thank Ellen Davis, state director of Rural Development, and Travis Jackson, the regional director, both of whom were in the audience.
Boucher concluded by thanking the Carroll County officials for their progressive vision, making sure economic development needs for the county are met. "Because of the county's commitment, those services are being provides at the most accelerated pace that they've ever been provided in the history of Carroll County," Boucher said.
"And those are investments in our economic future. It means future jobs, it means future economic growth.”
"Carroll County is heading in a positive direction and we owe much of that to Rural Development today," Hurst said in remarks after a provided lunch of salad, chicken, baked potato and corn.
Soon, after this board of supervisors took office, the county representatives created a list of 20 goals they wanted to accomplish, the supervisors' chairman said. Most of those objectives have been reached, and the county officials will develop a new list soon.
"Of the 20, Rural Development was involved in at least 10 of these, in developing infrastructure for us to grow as a community," Hurst said. "These range from playground equipment to fire truck and ambulance grants, to water and sewer lines, to the wellness center, to Crossroads Institute, Southwest [Virginia] Farmers Market — every dollar of this all came from Rural Development and has been used to enhance your community…"
Cook also praised the foresight of Carroll County officials.
She felt holding the celebration at the farmers market was an appropriate idea. "Local and regional food systems are one of the pillars of rural economic revitalization for the next 100, 200, 300 years.
"Retailers are crying for local food, because consumers are crying for local food," she said. The retail and wholesale markets will give farmers access to sales they otherwise would not have.
"Giving people access to food, who knew that was going to be a problem in the United States of America? But it surely is," she said.
All over the country there are communities that are considered food deserts, because low income people don't have access to groceries and have to buy from convenience stores, Cook said. Farmers markets like this one is a solution, giving people access to fresh, wholesome foods.
She feels sure that people are coming from hundreds miles away to get the delicious produce.
"I know with the kind of leadership that I've seen today — and I know with the quality of the projects that I've seen today — that we're going to keep getting applications for Carroll County to grow into the future," she said. "And I hope to come back in a few years to see the next group of projects."
Before the event broke up, Carroll supervisors gave each of the Rural Development officials a big basket of produce, copies of the Rural Development Day proclamation and named them all honorary citizens for their contributions to the county.
"We would give them a key, but we do not lock anything up," Hurst joked at the end.