WASHINGTON — Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the selection of organizations in 11 states, including Illinois, for loans and grants to support job creation efforts and business development and to strengthen economic growth in rural communities.

The announcement was made on the secretary’s behalf by U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Utilities Service Administrator John Padalino while he was attending the annual meeting of the National Rural Economic Developers Association in Austin, Texas.

“These investments will give rural businesses and local organizations more access to capital and new markets, allowing them to expand and increase hiring,” Vilsack said. “Between 2009 and 2011, USDA used $1.4 billion in government funds to provide nearly $7 billion in loans and grants to help rural businesses grow and innovate.

“This kind of investment creates and saves jobs in rural communities and builds thriving economies for the long term, all major goals of the Obama administration and USDA.”

The $11.8 million is being provided through USDA’s Rural Economic Development Loan and Grant program and will support 26 projects in 11 states. It provides zero-interest loans and grants to local utilities, which then, in turn, lend the funds through to local businesses for projects that will create and retain employment in rural areas.

The program funds business start-up or expansion, business incubators, education and training facilities and equipment, community development assistance, health care and other community projects that support rural jobs.

EnerStar Electric Cooperative of Paris, Ill., received a $1 million loan to purchase grain handling equipment for the Coshocton Grain Co. The project will add four jobs and save five positions.

Since the beginning of the Obama administration, the Rural Economic Development Loan and Grant program has helped create or save an estimated 25,000 rural jobs, provided $200 million in economic development assistance, improved manufacturing capability, expanded health care and educational facilities and either expanded or helped establish more than 900 rural businesses and community projects.