STANFORD — A top business development official in the Obama administration visited Stanford last week to tour a local factory that has benefitted from millions in government-guaranteed loans over the past three years.
Lillian Salerno, acting administrator for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Rural Business and Cooperative Programs, said she stopped by Lincoln Manufacturing LLC. because "we're in a crucial time of making sure that people in rural America have a voice."
"I think it's harder and harder with the politics to have folks that really do the work have the microphone in Washington," she said. "Any time I can, I wave the flag of rural manufacturing because that's my background."
Salerno toured the factory floor with LML owner Masato Sugimura and local and state officials, learning about LML's process for manufacturing the many car parts it creates.
"I'm really interested in how you all attract your employees and keep people here and keep them trained because that's the kind of stuff that Washington needs to hear about," Salerno said.
LML was awarded $9.85 million in guaranteed loans through the USDA in 2010. It also received guaranteed loans from Kentucky Highlands Investment Corporation in 2012 to save up to make energy efficiency upgrades estimated to save the company up to 44.3 percent in energy costs annually.
Salerno said there's a real need to provide funding for rural manufacturing outfits like LML. As an entrepreneur in Texas, she said she learned first hand how hard it can be to get investor support in rural areas.
"They didn't want to give us money unless we put our factory right next to the Dallas-Ft. Worth Airport, which was not rural," she said. "We said not 'no,' but sort of 'hell no.'"
Salerno said LML's subsequent success following the loans it received gives her ammunition to make the case for rural manufacturing as a vital piece of the national economy.
"What I do like to do is … go back and say, 'these are real people doing this work,'" she said. "When we're talking about what matters in the U.S. economy — making sure we have access to capital, a trained workforce — those are the kinds of things we really need to drive back to Washington."
After Salerno visited Stanford, she headed to London for a roundtable with economic development leaders.