A Douglas native is now at the head of “one the largest banks people have never heard of”: the United States Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service.
On June 27, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue released a statement on President Donald Trump’s appointment of Chad Rupe as administrator of the service.
“Chad served us well as (USDA) Rural Development state director in Wyoming for the past two years, and we are excited for him to join the team here in Washington, D.C.,” Purdue said. “With more than 15 years of experience in commercial and community banking, Chad brings much-needed expertise and knowledge to the Rural Utilities Service. I know Chad is committed to helping rural Americans prosper and thrive.”
Rupe told the Wyoming Business Report in a mid-July interview that he lived 30 of his 47 years in Douglas, where he was born and raised. His family remains in central Wyoming, and he returns from Washington to the area twice a month.
“I come back to spend time with (family) and to get back to my roots, and back to what is important,” Rupe said. “I think that is critical in this role, in what I do. I have a great team of professionals here that provide opportunity for people across the nation, but really … Wyoming is truly a test case of rural areas.”
Prior to being appointed state director, Rupe worked in Rural Development’s Community Programs in Wyoming. During his time with the program, Rupe worked to underwrite and manage more than $13 million in Water and Environmental Program direct loans and $4.75 million in grants. Before joining USDA, Rupe spent more than 13 years in the banking industry, specializing in commercial lending in Wyoming. Rupe began his service to our country in the U.S. Army, and is a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He earned his MBA from the University of Phoenix and is married with three children.
Rupe was acting administrator for the Rural Utilities Service since April 30, and prior to stepping into that role, he served as USDA Rural Development state director of Wyoming from 2017-19. During his tenure there, Rupe was a leader for rural broadband, serving on the Rural Development State Directors Broadband Working Group and assisting state government with efforts to deploy broadband in rural Wyoming. Rupe has also championed rural water utilities projects and financing for sustainable electric infrastructure investments.
“We want to get the best opportunities possible to people in rural areas to meet their needs,” Rupe said. “That is truly what we do. The experience I have at the state level and at a local level is what we are trying to do at a national level. We want to be where someone has a need, so we can provide access and opportunity.”
USDA Rural Development has a loan portfolio of more than $224.5 billion, which is aimed at enhancing economic opportunity in the nation’s rural communities. To accomplish its goals, USDA Rural Development relies on a dedicated team of professional staff working in concert in several offices. Staff operate from the national office in Washington, D.C., from St. Louis and in 47 state offices.
“We can have a positive impact, but people need to know that we are here,” Rupe said. “One of the great things about this agency is that we have state offices in 47 states. We have offices in the locations where rural folks are located, and we are the most connected to rural folks of America.”
Rupe said it is important people understand the opportunities his agency can provide for people in need.
“We were started in the 1930s as a part of the New Deal program, and we are a very large organization. We are probably one of the largest banks people have never heard of,” Rupe said. “Our loan portfolio is $225 billion. Just in our utilities services, which is one of three agencies within Rural Development at USDA, we have about a $60 billion portfolio, and we distribute $7 billion in federal funds each year. We have a huge impact on rural America, and we are the only federal agency that is completely focused on serving rural America.”
The goal of USDA Rural Development is to improve the economy and quality of life in rural America. The agency offers loans, grants and loan guarantees to help create jobs and support economic development and essential services such as housing, health care, first-responder services and equipment; and water, electric and communications infrastructure.
“First and foremost, we are a bank of the U.S. government,” Rupe explained. “We have to have a keen eye in how we do business. We filter that out into loans and grants for infrastructure like broadband and other things that serve rural communities. You have to have an understanding of what the needs are and how to serve them, but you also have to be a good steward of taxpayer money, to make sure we are spending money appropriately.”
USDA Rural Development also promotes economic development by supporting loans to businesses through banks, credit unions and community-managed lending pools, and offers technical assistance and information to help agricultural producers and cooperatives get started and improve the effectiveness of their operations.
USDA Rural Development also provides technical assistance to help communities undertake community empowerment programs, and helps rural residents buy or rent safe, affordable housing, and make health and safety repairs to their homes.
“Being able to travel throughout Wyoming, I was able to not only talk to people who run the hospital, but also the people at the schools and small businesses,” Rupe said. “Basically, they want the opportunity to achieve, and to be placed on equal footing with other parts of the nation. We want access to the best services possible, no matter where we are.”
At the federal level, the USDA looks for someone with experience, but someone who also lives and breathes the rural lifestyle.
“They want someone who has a common bond with the people they serve, and that is critical to making these decisions,” Rupe said.