USDA Receives 2011 Main Street Leadership Award

On May 25, the National Trust for Historic Preservation presented the U.S. Department of Agriculture with the 2011 Main Street Leadership Award at the National Main Streets Conference in Des Moines, Iowa. Dallas Tonsager, Under Secretary for Rural Development, received the award at the Main Street Awards Ceremony.  The award recognizes creative approaches to commercial district revitalization challenges.

USDA was chosen for this award in honor of their outstanding partnerships with rural Main Streets nationwide. USDA has provided grant funding for a broad range of programs and innovative projects in Main Street districts across the country in recent years, and these efforts have cumulatively made a significant impact on the landscape of commercial district revitalization. Rural communities also regularly tap into USDA’s Rural Community Development Initiative (RCDI) program which provides funds for technical assistance and training and the agency’s Rural Business and Enterprise Grant (RBEG) program to help with financing small and emerging rural businesses. In the past five years alone, USDA has provided grant funds for local Main Street programs and projects in more than 15 states, through the RCDI and RBEG. 

In 2010, for example, a USDA Rural Development grant allowed Main Street Iowa to hold “Greening Your District” and “Complete Streets” workshops in over 30 Main Street districts in the state.  Other projects include one-on-one business assistance in Arizona, energy efficiency districts in Oregon, downtown food kitchens in Wyoming, regional Main Street training programs in Pennsylvania, downtown branding development in Delaware, and capital for a Main Street revolving loan fund in New Mexico.

Another example, drawn from Woodbine, Iowa illustrates the role USDA has played in rural commercial district revitalization. The Whitmore Building (pictured) utilized USDA REAP [Rural Energy for America Program Guaranteed Loan Program] funds to install a geothermal system as a part of the rehabilitation project. The REAP grant covered approximately one-quarter of the cost of the geothermal system, which helped to financially justify the decision of installing a geothermal system, rather than making HVAC system improvements. The REAP program encourages the commercial financing of renewable energy (bioenergy, geothermal, hydrogen, solar, wind and hydro power) and energy efficiency projects. Under the program, project developers will work with local lenders, who in turn can apply to USDA Rural Development for a loan guarantee up to 85 percent of the loan amount.

Main Street Center director, Doug Loescher stated the signficance of USDA's leadership in these terms: “The Main Street approach and network is only as strong as its leadership. The impact of our movement is greatly enhanced by the national organizations and agencies that share our vision for revitalized communities. Rural Main Streets have had no greater national ally than the USDA over the years. Through their broad array of programs, loans, grants and regional offices, USDA has fueled growth an innovation throughout the Main Street network.” 

USDA Under Secretary Tonsager added, “USDA and the National Trust for Historic Preservation both work so that rural America remains a place where families want to live and people want to work. Giving rural Americans the tools to dig into revitalization efforts in their communities is essential. USDA is a committed partner joining communities as they put their shoulders to the beams and literally and figuratively build stronger businesses, better facilities and more stable communities together."

Given each year, the National Trust Main Street Center’s Main Street Leadership Award recognizes individuals or organizations that have provided strong leadership, locally or nationally, in the following ways:

• Significant, lasting contributions made to commercial district revitalization;
• Inspiring actions that can be duplicated in other communities;
• Ability to serve as a national role model or spokesperson; and
• Long-term contributions to a community's revitalization over time.

Past recipients have included a range of individuals and institutions, such as Oregon First Lady Mary J. Oberst (2009), the U.S. General Services Administration (2002), and the Savannah College of Art and Design (2003).