CEO’s Report: Partnering for progress in customer communities

Listening to Don Macke speak at our Summer Conference about creating economic opportunities got me energized about development in our customer communities. He reminded me how important partnerships are in community development and I wanted to take this opportunity to re-educate you on the Heartland Economic Development loan (HELP) Fund.

Heartland has long partnered with United States Department of Agriculture Rural Development to offer low-interest financing to our customers, their economic development corporations and businesses within their communities. The HELP Fund has assisted with many projects that have provided great benefit to our customers.

Our loan program has helped finance electrical system upgrades to accommodate business expansion, equipment and machinery purchases, as well as construction, purchase and expansion of businesses. The HELP Fund has aided in the creation and retention of quality jobs, helping to not only bring people into rural communities but keep existing residents from looking elsewhere.

According to one of our loan recipients, without our program, they would have had to consider closing the doors. Our low interest rate made it feasible for them to construct a new building and they continue to operate a thriving business today in a small, rural Heartland community.

Heartland obtains funding for HELP loans through USDA’s Intermediary Relending Program, which provides 1% loans to local intermediaries, such as Heartland, to establish a revolving loan fund. Heartland typically provides 25% of the loan funds to the recipient with the remaining 75% coming from the IRP fund.

This program is a win-win for Heartland and our customers. USDA Rural Development is committed to helping improve the economy and quality of life in rural America, much like Heartland. The majority of our customers are smaller, rural towns and our loan fund helps provide opportunities to expand the local economy, which benefits us all.

Heartland typically partners with a bank when financing projects to not only share risk, but to better utilize the expertise and resources they offer. For each loan Heartland issues, we require some form of collateral in case of default and we have a proven track record of financing successful ventures. We charge a lower than average interest rate, yet bring in enough interest income to sustain the program.

More than once, we’ve heard from loan recipients that they couldn’t have done it without us. We’ve heard the same from banks. We are a true partner with this program, helping to fill a funding gap that neither the bank or loan recipient can provide. It gives us great pride to come into our customer communities and see a business flourishing because of the extra help we were able to provide. The HELP Loan is just one way we are investing in the success of our customers.

Heartland can also provide financing to customers interested in implementing a load management program. Effective load management systems pay for themselves in savings in a few short years. In addition, it can reduce labor costs and help customers better understand their electricity usage. Heartland will provide direct financing to utilities at a low interest rate to implement a program.

USDA administers a number of other programs beneficial to rural communities and businesses. For example, the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) has grants and guaranteed loans available to agricultural producers and rural small businesses to make energy efficiency improvements. Grants may be up to 25% of eligible costs using this federal program.

Energy improvements to small businesses include more efficient lighting, coolers or freezers, or heating and cooling systems. Energy efficiency projects may also include enhancing building insulation, doors and windows or other means of reducing energy usage and costs to a business.

You can learn more about USDA’s Rural Development programs by contacting a USDA Rural Development office in your area or visiting www.rd.usda.gov. For more information about a HELP Loan and how it can impact your community, please contact Heartland Director of Economic Development Casey Crabtree. We look forward to partnering with you to move your community forward.

USDA is an equal opportunity provider, employer and lender. See full non-discrimination statement for further information.