USDA Rural Development: Committed to the Future of Rural Career Opportunities

By Colleen Callahan, Julie Wilson and Molly Hammond

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development is committed to helping improve the economy and quality of life in rural America. Our financial programs support such essential public facilities and services as water and sewer systems, housing, health clinics, emergency service facilities and electric and telephone service. We promote economic development by supporting loans to businesses through banks, credit unions, and community-managed lending pools. We offer technical assistance and information to help agricultural producers and cooperatives get started and improve the effectiveness of their operations. We provide technical assistance to help communities undertake community empowerment programs.


Nationally, USDA Rural Development has a $155 billion portfolio of loans and will administer $20 billion in loans, loan guarantees, and grants through our programs this fiscal year. We achieve our mission by helping rural individuals, communities and businesses obtain the financial and technical assistance needed to address their diverse and unique needs. Through this work, we are faced with some challenges. Our focus is to transform these challenges into opportunities.


Rural America now accounts for a mere 16 percent of the nation’s population, the lowest ever. A recent article that appeared in Illinois Times, entitled “Devoid of Life” says: “Rural Illinois has been hemorrhaging people since the 1860’s or so. That’s when young people in particular started leaving for cities where they could find work. What happens when the number of people that rural areas can economically sustain drops below the number needed to govern the institutions that modern towns need to sustain themselves?”


Hence, if there is strength in numbers, and we are on a documented decline, what do we do? What are our options? Maybe we need to start “thinking” like a weed. Weeds seem to subscribe to the survival of the fittest theory; they thrive in adverse conditions. So how can we, as Rural Americans, be innovative, create confidence in the marketplace and thrive like weeds? We must adapt and play to our strengths. Rural Development can help!


We have the capability to help promote local food and renewable sources of energy. That means potential new markets, new businesses, new jobs, and maybe people returning and/or relocating to rural areas…new, younger people to assist in decision making for our communities. Rural Development not only helps finance the infrastructure that will help create these jobs in Rural America, but we also provide career opportunities for those that wish to join us in our important work. Rural America needs these strong individuals who are willing and ready to be a force in their communities.


As you can see, Rural Development is committed to the future of rural communities, which is our mantra. However, Rural Development does more for Rural America than assist residents in attaining homeownership, provide safe drinking water, and expand businesses. According to the National Association of Realtors, for every 2 homes sold, a job is created. In FY 2010, USDA Rural Development assisted more than 150,000 households! Through every facet of the work we accomplish, Rural Development provides career opportunities for rural residents.


USDA Rural Development employs over 5,000 employees nationally.  We have a National Office in Washington D.C., a Centralized Servicing Center in St. Louis, 47 State Offices across the country and hundreds of Area Offices located throughout each state.  Every state is different, but in Illinois there are approximately three to nine employees in each of the 12 area office locations and 30 employees in the State Office.  We primarily fill loan originator and loan processor positions.  The salary for a loan processor can range from $31,315 to $38,790 per annum and our loan originator salary ranges from $38,790 to $68,809. We seek dedicated team members so we can continue to provide our strong commitment to the future of Rural America.




Colleen Callahan

USDA Rural Development in Illinois is led by Colleen Callahan. Colleen grew up on a purebred Hampshire hog, Angus cattle and grain farm near Milford, Illinois. She received her bachelor’s degree in agricultural communications from the University of Illinois. She was the first woman agribusiness director for WMBD Radio and TV in Peoria. After 30 years with WMBD, Colleen started her own communications firm, specializing in giving motivational speeches, facilitating meetings and debates, and coaching individuals and organizations in public speaking and preparing for media interviews. She has traveled on official missions to Afghanistan, Iraq, the Middle East and Cuba.

Colleen has a strong commitment to public service and has served on numerous executive boards throughout the Peoria area and the State of Illinois. She also served as the first woman president of the National Association of Farm Broadcasting and this fall will become the first woman inducted into its Hall of Fame.

The Obama Administration named Colleen State Director for USDA Rural Development in Illinois, and she began her duties in July 2009. She oversees the agency’s 13 offices and its $3.5 billion loan portfolio with investments in housing, business and community development in rural Illinois. colleen.callahan@il.usda.gov



Julie Wilson grew up on a farm in Central Illinois.  She began her career with the federal government right out of high school.  Her first position was on the Administrative Staff as a Business Services Clerk.  Over time, she worked her way up from Personnel Clerk to Human Resources Manager.  She currently holds the position of Administrative Programs Director. julie.wilson@il.usda.gov



Molly Hammond is the Assistant to the State Director for USDA Rural Development in Illinois. She serves as a key member of the State Director’s management staff. She assists in developing, implementing and monitoring strategic planning for the agency. In her previous role with USDA Rural Development, she worked with businesses and lending institutions throughout the state on financing new and expanding business ventures. In that role, Ms. Hammond coordinated the agency’s renewable energy and energy efficiency efforts in Illinois and was responsible for coordinating the Rural Economic Development Loan and Grant program with Illinois electric and telephone cooperatives. She is a graduate of the University of Illinois with a Bachelor of Science in Finance. Molly.Hammond@il.usda.gov


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