Kenneth Corn appointed as USDA State Director for Rural Development
Water and sewer infrastructure, diversity inclusion, climate change and rural housing development are a few challenges surrounding rural development.
President Joe Biden appointed USDA officials in 12 states including Oklahoma where Kenneth Corn, a Howe native, is the new state director for rural development. While still a student at the University of Oklahoma, he served as a Democrat in the state’s House of Representatives and went on to serve in the state senate.
After he was termed out of office, Corn worked in the oil and gas industry and became Anadarko’s city manager in 2015.
As director of rural development, Corn will oversee the office offering grants, loans and loan guarantees. Corn said he wants to connect with entities and people like Tribal Nations and State Banking Commissioner to find out how to make federal resources most effective.
“I want to try to make people’s interface with the federal government as easy as possible and make sure they know what tools are available so they can get the assistance they need,” Corn said.
When the pandemic began, Corn said some Oklahoma communities were not prepared for the technological issues it brought because of lack of broadband connectivity. Corn said this along with water and sewer infrastructure, diversity inclusion, climate infrastructure and rural housing development are some of the issues he wants to focus on in his new role.
The state ranks 47th in the country for broadband connectivity, and federal funds through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill have been allocated to help address the issue.
Brian Whitacre is an Oklahoma State University professor, a university extension specialist for rural economic development and is part of the state’s rural broadband expansion council. He said money from the federal government has not been received yet, the council is creating a state map to show where broadband availability is needed.
Whitacre said some things like water-infrastructure also received money through the infrastructure bill, but also through the American Rescue Plan Act.
There are some challenges in the state, Whitacre said is common in other regions.
“Of course, we still have a problem with rural hospital closures across the state,” Whitacre said. “A lot of states in the south have suffered with losing their hospitals and Oklahoma is no different.”