Departing Walters touts Rural Development success

Published 5:00 am Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Nick Walters, Mississippi director of Rural Development for theU.S. Department of Agriculture, will leave his office Friday,August 4 after almost six years spent securing funding to aid inthe economic development of rural towns and cities, includingBrookhaven.

Walters’ projects specific to Brookhaven include the KingsDaughter’s Medical Center expansion project, the downtown sign andlight project, and a variety of water and housing projects.Walters, who was appointed state director in March 2001 byPresident Bush, is stepping down from his post to pursue a careerin investment banking.

“A lot of people get into politics thinking that’s all you cando, but the timing is right and I have some opportunities, so it’stime for me to go out into the private sector,” Walters said Mondayduring a stop n Brookhaven.

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Walters, 39, said he has no political ambitions for the upcomingyear, but he has not “ruled out the possibility” of running foroffice in the future. He ran for secretary of state in 1999.

He said his goals while in office included raising awareness ofthe agency, helping organizations access funds and reducingoverhead.

Before he took office, the agency was sending back $20 million ayear in federal aid because people didn’t know it existed or how toaccess it, he said.

Walters has visited every hospital in the state to raiseawareness of their opportunities for improvements, said KenStribling, special projects representative of the USDA’s RuralDevelopment office.

“The USDA didn’t come to people’s minds as a source of funds toadd onto a hospital,” Walters said.

Project funding comes from the money allocated for Mississippiby the USDA and from a “pool” of money appropriated for otherstates that is not spent, Walters said. At points in the fiscalyear, all monies not spent by the 50 states go back into a “pool”in the national office where it becomes “up for grabs” by thestates.

Also, Walters reduced the number of employees and offices in thestatewide Rural Development agency to achieve greater efficiency.He started his term with 242 employees in the agency and thatnumber will be down to 203 within the next couple of years, hesaid. He has also reduced the number of local county offices from54 to 24.

“My goal was to see if government can be run like a business,”Walters said. “It can’t be, but you can bring business-likeprinciples into government.”