USDA rural rating provides new loan opportunities in several greater Portland towns

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FREEPORT — A dozen towns in greater Portland have been reclassified as rural and are now eligible to apply for grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The USDA Rural Development Business Loan and Grant Programs were previously unavailable to certain towns because of how close they were to a city with a population greater than 50,000.

Now, businesses in towns surrounding Portland are allowed to apply for these grants. They may have the ability to bring in millions of dollars.

“We’re talking about quite literally millions and millions of dollars that now many businesses in Maine will have access to,” Keith McBride, executive director of the Freeport Economic Development Corp., said.

The reassessment began in Freeport, and eventually included Yarmouth, Cumberland, Falmouth, Scarborough, Cape Elizabeth, and several others.

Virginia Manuel, USDA Rural Development state director, said the reassessment is a big change and that there will be many benefits for the businesses that are now eligible for the grants.

“Businesses can utilize funds to purchase land or equipment, facilitate debt restructuring, conduct feasibility studies, install renewable energy or energy-efficient systems, enter into value-added activities, and more,” Manuel said in a press release.

Parts of Freeport were already eligible before the reassessment, but businesses from Route 1 through the village and commercial districts were not. The change came after Maine Beer Co. sought to apply for a grant and found that the line of eligibility ran through the middle of the business.

It was determined that the company was ineligible, so McBride stepped in to help. He spoke with officials at the Maine office of the USDA, who then spoke with officials in Washington, D.C., to see if Freeport could be reassessed.

It was found that while Freeport and the other towns that were reassessed are close to Portland, they are much different economically.

Manuel said almost every other town in the state is eligible for the grants and she’s glad to see new towns added. She said the USDA will be doing a lot more marketing in these towns to make businesses aware of the funds available to them.

“Freeport is one of the communities we’re very excited to be working with, but this goes much beyond Freeport,” she said.

Kate Gardner can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or Follow her on Twitter: @katevgardner.

I'm a reporter for The Forecaster covering Freeport, Yarmouth, Chebeague Island, and Cape Elizabeth. I'm from a small town in NH no one's ever heard of. When not reporting, I can be found eating pasta and reading books, often at the same time.