USDA Rural Development leader lends expertise
Judith Canales, USDA acting deputy under secretary for rural development, talks about rural development during the Imperial Valley economic outlook roundtable meeting Thursday at Farm Credit Services Southwest in Imperial. (JOSELITO VILLERO PHOTO / May 17, 2013)
USDA Acting Deputy Under Secretary for Rural Development Judith A. Canales is a native of the border town of Uvalde, Texas, and has received two presidential appointments as the Administrator for USDA Rural Development rural business cooperative programs in Washington, D.C.
The Imperial Valley Economic Outlook Roundtable targeted a variety of topics including maquiladoras, bio-fuels, renewable energy, algae, agricultural exports and the Calexico ports of entry.
In response, Canales lent her expertise as to how the USDA Rural Development programs can facilitate economic growth in each of these areas.
“It’s about business development in particular and how the federal government can help nurture, support and sometimes be right there at the table with you and also sometimes, I would say, being out of the way,” she said.
That support is often through financing in loan guarantees, grants or technical assistance. USDA Rural Development has invested roughly $190 million into Imperial County over the last four years, she explained, and substantially boosted housing programs in the Valley.
While encouraging those in attendance Thursday to “be keen on the Farm Bill,” she emphasized the county’s need to diversify its energy sources and support ones such as wind, solar turbines and hydroelectric energy. She also zeroed in on prioritizing support for food production infrastructure.
Much focus of the roundtable was on the porous nature of the border and its corresponding economic effect.
Development company consultant Tom Topuzes cited that $7 billion in trade came through the Calexico East Port of Entry last year.
“(The maquiladoras) really help the economy of the Imperial Valley,” he said. “Even though they’re in another country, they’re really just neighbors.”
Canales questioned how auxiliary businesses support the lucrative U.S.-Mexico trade moving through the region, and advocated California modeling its business relationship with Mexico after Texas’.
“Texas is way ahead of California in terms of its relationship with Mexico,” Topuzes said in agreement. “But Arizona and California are catching up.”
Imperial County Supervisor Ray Castillo and other roundtable participants detailed the various projects moving forward and Imperial Valley’s progression toward becoming the “renewable energy capital” of the U.S.
Both Castillo and Canales agreed that the impact the size of a city’s population has on funding eligibility also needs to be more closely reviewed.
While a big focus of discussion hit on these projects’ impact on local employment, Canales additionally advised more concentrated training and education of the workforce while advocating for support of the Workforce Investment Act.
In the end, Canales strongly emphasized the importance for local stakeholders to take advantage of and reach out to the local USDA representatives.
“I want to make sure California has all the support it needs, because we always have great expectations for this state,” she said.
Staff Writer Chelcey Adami can be reached at 760-337-3452 or firstname.lastname@example.org