New leader hopes agency’s services can benefit more

Published 5:00 am Wednesday, May 9, 2001

Increasing public awareness of Rural Development is one goal ofNick Walters, the state’s new leader of the federal agriculturalagency.

“We touch people’s everyday lives as much or more so than anyother federal agency does,” Walters said Tuesday during a stop inBrookhaven to meet with area Rural Development officials and agencyemployees.

A main focus of Rural Development, formerly known for years asthe Farmer’s Home Administration, provides assistance for residentsneeding housing. Other aspects of agency duties, Walters said,include working with rural water associations to provide safedrinking water and loan packages to help rural businesses.

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

On the local government assistance side, Rural Development workswith the Southwest Planning and Development District on a revolvingloan program to develop public facilities and related activities.Government assistance is handled primarily through the agency’sdistrict offices.

Walters mentioned his plan to create Community Develop Teams tovisit with chamber of commerce, government leaders and others onthe local level to determine how Rural Development can better helpthem.

“We’re prepared to go into all 82 counties, those that inviteus,” Walters said.

Walters said county governments have been notified, but theagency was waiting until after this year’s municipal elections tonotify city leaders.

When meeting with community leaders, Walters said he wanted awide-based group to discuss and identify community needs. He saidthe agency will not have a program to meet every need, but he wasconfident assistance could be provided in a variety of areas.

“We can start getting in our minds what the needs are and seeingwhere we match up,” Walters said.

Walters has been traveling to each of the state’s eight areaoffices to meet employees and view operations. The Brookhaven areaoffice covers much of southwest Mississippi south of Interstate 20and west of Interstate 55.

While in Brookhaven Tuesday, Walters toured the new officebuilding that will house county and district offices for RuralDevelopment, Farm Service Agency and the Natural ResourcesConservation Service. The agencies are expected move in the newbuilding on Johnny Johnson Drive on June 4.

The state head of Rural Development is one of six offices in thestate appointed by the President. Walters, who began in March, wasthe first state Rural Development leader to take office in thenation after President George W. Bush was elected.