USDA official hears local success stories

Lillian Salerno

Lillian Salerno

The Northern Nevada Business Weekly welcomed Lillian Salerno, who helps spearhead economic development in rural America, to its Reno offices during her recent visit to the region.

Salerno serves as administrator for the Rural Business-Cooperative Service, an agency within the Rural Development mission area of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

As administrator, Salerno, a presidential appointee, is responsible for overseeing the Agency’s nearly $11 billion guaranteed loan portfolio.

Accompanied by Nevada USDA Rural Development Director Sarah Adler, Salerno toured several facilities in the Tahoe-Reno Industrial Center backed by the agency’s loan guarantee program, and discovered ways in which the economic development firm expands northern Nevada’s prosperity.

“The kind of stories I’ve heard here, I can’t believe how much is going on, especially the technological innovations,” said Salerno after a tour of the Dynamic Isolation Systems and East West Engineering, both backed by USDA Rural development guarantees.

Her visit to the Truckee Meadows was part of a two-day swing though the area. The trip highlighted USDA investments that are helping grow the bio-economy, such as the work of Sierra Fulcrum Biofuels.

Energy efficiency is high on Salerno’s to-fund list.

The two officials also visited other area organizations, such as food banks, home ownership groups and an energy roundtable. They also checked in with their local lending partners like Heritage Bank of Nevada.

“We are focused on areas with less than 50,000 people,” explained Salerno. “That’s where we are most active.”

It’s a federal program charged with helping citizens in small towns and out in the country. And Nevada has plenty of each.

The USDA RD in the 2013-2014 fiscal year invested more than $161 million into rural communities in Nevada to support housing, businesses and public facilities. Over the past five years, the agency has put nearly $1 billion into Silver State’s rural communities. Tribal communities are also eligible for USDA RD assistance. They received more than $284,000 to improve their businesses and community facilities in the past year. The latter is an emerging area, which Adler called “Indianpreneurship.”

“Our average loan size is in the $2 million category,” said Salerno, who successfully founded a manufacturing company in her native Texas, which started with a Small Business Innovation Grant, making her a strong advocate for entrepreneurs and small business.

The company, which is in Little Elm, Texas, now employs 180 people, said Salerno, who still is an investor but not involved with the business on a day-to-day basis.

The medical device business was first developed to protect nurses from needle sticks.

Many small towns are good candidates for companies such as the one she started.

With investment in Internet broadband and access to a trained workforce, many small towns are increasingly the location of choice for many entrepreneurs with solid business ideas, she said.


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