Kaua‘i Island Utility Cooperative not only powers local businesses — it empowers them.
The co-op was recently selected to receive a $300,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which it will loan — without interest — to the National Tropical Botanical Gardens in Kalaheo.
The gardens, in turn, will use the money to help fund its new research center and library, which are already under construction.
KIUC was selected to receive the grant as part of the USDA’s Rural Economic Development Land and Grant program, in which utility cooperatives receive grants and pass the funding on to projects that will create and retain employment in rural areas.
Utilities can only loan the funds to nonprofit borrowers with the proven ability to repay.
During fiscal year 2007, about $10 million was available for grants in amounts up to $300,000, according to the USDA Rural Development Web site.
Janet Leopold, assistant director of publications for the gardens, said the money will help complete a $14-million, 20,000-square-foot structure, which will serve as a combination herbarium, library and educational, research and conservation center. The building is also the first Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design-certified green building on Kaua‘i.
“It’s unusual for an organization to have such wonderful living collections in the gardens and next to it a really comprehensive library and research center,” Leopold said. “This is really going to facilitate education.”
According to KIUC Senior Council Karen Baldwin, the co-op holds informational presentations throughout the year for nonprofits to let them know that the program exists, which is how National Tropical Botanical Gardens became aware of the opportunity.
So why doesn’t the USDA offer the money directly to nonprofits?
Baldwin said the gardens will eventually pay back the $300,000 to the co-op. And when it does, KIUC will put the full amount into its revolving loan fund, which is used to fund all sorts of projects locally — again, without interest.
While the initial grant from the USDA comes with stipulations for utilities such as KIUC and borrowers such as the gardens, the repaid amount is KIUC’s to dish out at its own discretion.
This means the co-op can extend loans to for-profit businesses to help them get started or complete small projects.
“This is the part of the co-op that is serving the community, encouraging its growth and encouraging business,” Baldwin said.
Kaua‘i Island Utility Cooperative is a nonprofit organization and is one of four rural utility co-ops in the nation that generate, transmit and distribute energy to customers.
• Blake Jones, business writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 251) or email@example.com.