Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns has announced the award of $97 million in guaranteed loans to help businesses in Georgia, Illinois and North Carolina create jobs and develop renewable energy systems.

"These funds are part of USDA's ongoing commitment to bring greater economic opportunities to rural citizens," Johanns said. "They will help rural communities create jobs and strong, competitive business enterprises."

The recipients received funding through USDA's Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency (Section 9006) guaranteed loan program and the Business and Industry (B&I) guaranteed loan program. The Section 9006 program provides financial assistance to agricultural producers and rural small businesses to install renewable energy projects or make energy efficiency improvements.

The Business and Industry program complements the existing private credit structure by guaranteeing loans that will provide lasting community and economic benefits, such as for business expansions.

Clean Burn Fuels LLC, in Hoke, County, N.C., is approved to receive $10 million from the Section 9006 program and a $25 million B&I loan guarantee to construct a new ethanol plant that is expected to produce 60 million gallons of ethanol per year.

Blackhawk Biofuels LLC, Freeport, Ill., is approved for a $7.5 million Section 9006 loan and a $20 million B&I loan to build and operate a 30-million-gallon biodiesel facility.

Appling County Pellets, Savannah, Ga., is approved to receive a $10 million Section 9006 loan and a $9.5 million B&I loan to produce up to 130,000 metric tons of wood pellets to be sold in domestic and international markets.

National Trail Biodiesel, Newton, Ill., was also approved to receive a $10 million Section 9006 loan and a $5 million B&I loan to build and operate a 30-million-gallon-per-year biodiesel production facility in Jasper County, Ill.

USDA Rural Development's mission is to increase economic opportunity and improve the quality of life for rural residents.

Rural Development has invested more than $76.8 billion since 2001 for equity and technical assistance to finance and foster growth in homeownership, business development, and critical community and technology infrastructure.

More than 1.5 million jobs have been created or saved through these investments.

Additional information on rural programs is available at a local USDA Rural Development office or by visiting USDA's web site at http://www.rurdev.usda.gov/