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Amendment aids economic development

From staff reports

Washington - U.S. Rep. Ted Strickland announced earlier this week that he has secured language in the fiscal 2004 Agriculture spending bill (H.R. 2673) that will preserve the ability of businesses and local governments in Lawrence County to access rural development funds.

"I am pleased that my colleagues on the Appropriations Committee agreed that it makes no sense for Lawrence County to be denied rural development funds just because it borders Huntington, W. Va., and Ashland, Ky.," Strickland said.

"Rural Development has been an important source of funding in the past.

We cannot allow an arbitrary change in law in last year's Farm Bill to jeopardize future funding in Lawrence County."

The agriculture spending bill includes language requested by Strickland that will make businesses and local governments in the county eligible for grants and loan guarantees from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Rural Development agency.

Prior to Jan. 1,

Lawrence County had been considered a "rural area," but with passage of the 2002 Farm Bill, any cities or towns that are adjacent to cities with populations greater than 50,000 lost eligibility to apply for these important programs.

Strickland discussed this problem with Randy Hunt, state director of rural development in Columbus, and Pat Clonch, executive director of the Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce. He convinced his colleagues in Congress that the Ohio River serves as a natural boundary between Huntington and Ashland and that Lawrence County should not be penalized for its proximity to these two cities.

In the past year, Superior Marine of South Point received a Business & Industry loan guarantee from Rural Development. Dale Manns of Superior called the B&I loan guarantee, "a real benefit to small businesses. The last few years have been tough on river industries but the loan guarantee allowed Superior to expand and acquire two new boats, employing 18 more workers and boosting revenue by more than $100,000 per month."

The government loan guarantees limit the exposure of local banks and enable banks to make more loans to area businesses, Manns said.

If the Strickland language remains in the bill after the differences between the House and Senate measures are worked out in conference committee, businesses and local governments in Lawrence County will be eligible for the Rural Development programs for fiscal year 2004.