You may not have heard of USDA Rural Development, but if you live in Highland County you have likely benefited from their projects. The recent upgrades to the Monterey Sewage Treatment Plant, the creation of the Distance Learning Lab at Highland County Public Schools, and the construction of the Alleghany Highlands Agricultural Center were all made possible through support from Rural Development.
John Padalino, Acting Administrator for Business and Cooperative Programs with USDA Rural Development, has been in his post for only one month. He has spent much of that time touring the nation to see successful Rural Development projects, and Highland was one of his first stops.
Mr. Padalino, who previously served with the Office of General Counsel and as Chief of Staff for USDA Rural Development Under Secretary Tonsager, travelled to Highland County on Thursday, May 31. He was joined by other USDA Rural Development leaders: State Director Ellen Davis, Assistant State Director Vern Orrell, and Rural Business Program Director Kent Ware.
The group started their tour at the Alleghany Highlands Agricultural Center, now operating under the trade name Alleghany Meats. The Ag Center was born out of a USDA Value-Added Producer grant, which identified the need for a local slaughter facility. USDA was critical along the way, providing funding for construction and equipment through the Rural Economic Development Loan and the Rural Business Enterprise Grant.
Alleghany Meats General Manager Chris Fuller led the tour, explaining how the facility’s custom features ensure that each animal is treated humanely, processed to allow for the highest value for producers, and outfitted for USDA inspection. He also talked about opportunities for further value-added production, such as a smoker that will be installed this summer.
The group then moved on to The Highland Center, which has worked with Rural Development to establish a business incubation program, replace its roof, and build the pavilion that now houses the Highland Farmers’ Market. The Highland Center Executive Director Betty Mitchell talked about renovation plans for the Center’s 90-year-old building, which now houses an inspected commercial kitchen, the Highland Senior Center, the Highland County Chamber of Commerce, and numerous businesses, artists and cultural programs.
State Director Ellen Davis, who has been a supporter of Highland County projects for many years, praised the community for its persistence and innovation. “You all have been very methodical in your approach,” Davis said. “It has taken you a while to get where you are, but the results are falling into place.”
Mr. Padalino will continue to tour the country to see firsthand the impact that Rural Development projects are making. The Business and Cooperative Program that Padalino oversees creates jobs by investing in farmers, broadband services, renewable energy and small businesses. For more information visit www.rurdev.usda.gov.