USDA to discuss funding opportunities in Bennington
By Patrick McArdle
STAFF WRITER | December 04,2012
BENNINGTON — The good news about the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s workshop at the Bennington town offices Thursday is it will provide information about the availability of loans and grants from the Rural Development program for nonprofits and municipalities that many people might not know about.
The bad news is that the meeting is already at capacity, according to Jon-Michael Muise, area director of the USDA for Southern Vermont.
While Muise said Thursday’s meeting may be full, there will be other opportunities to learn about what the USDA has to offer and plenty of reasons that information could be useful.
The goal of the meeting is to reach out to towns or nonprofit agencies that are looking for funding options in areas like capital improvements and equipment purchases.
Muise said he expects to start with a general review of Rural Development programs.
“It will be a very, very brief overview because we have over 40 different programs that we offer through the agency. Then, specifically, I’m going to drill down to the community facilities program, which is for the not-for-profits and municipal sector to look at,” he said.
Muise said a lot of people might be surprised by what the USDA offers and how it’s different from other potential funding sources.
“It’s nice to inform people that the process is not the typical grant process. It’s not a typical state funding process. We really become a partner with our customers. We walk them through the process and this (meeting Thursday) will sort of give them the ins and outs, give them some idea of what to expect if they apply to us for one of the projects,” he said.
Muise said discussions with his office also allow nonprofits and towns to “vet” their project to see if the USDA would be a good partner or if Muise might be able to make an alternative recommendation.
“The USDA has programs that can fund a community from the ground up and it’s not an agency that people typically think of when you think of your municipal project so we want to get the awareness out there,” he said.
One reason that the meeting is already full might be that the USDA hosts meeting like the one in Bennington on Thursday every two to three years. Some agencies that could benefit from Rural Development grants may not have had their particular project in the works the last time there was a meeting to explain what was available.
Thursday is an opportunity even for those who don’t have a project that’s in the final stages.
“One of the number one things we tell people is ‘Talk to us early and often about your project so we can guide you, whether it’s our program or someone else’s, to get you to the appropriate entity and funding scheme,’” Muise said. “Federal programs are a little daunting with a lot of twists and turns and hurdles but if you start off early and get us involved early then we can give a lot of guidance and coaching to navigate the whole process.”
Locally, the USDA has worked recently with the Green Mountain Community Network, Bennington Project Independence, the Bennington Rescue Squad and the Bennington Museum.
While Muise said Thursday’s meeting is already full, he said he would be willing to schedule another meeting if there is enough interest. He also said he could answer questions about the Rural Development program and could be reached by phone at 254-9766, ext. 106, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.