LAS VEGAS (AP) — U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on Wednesday urged Nevada businesses to apply for a federal loan to build and operate a waste recycling plant that would produce jet fuel for the Navy.

Nevada has the highest unemployment rate in the nation at 13.4 percent, and state leaders are looking to expand the economy beyond tourism. Vilsack said the federal government wants to fund biofuel plants across the nation, and Nevada could apply for a slot.

Officials from the USDA, Department of Energy and Navy announced in August the $510 million initiative to provide guaranteed federal loans to private businesses that would construct or retrofit biofuel plants and refineries in rural areas. Most of Nevada is rural, and Vilsack said the state could be a good fit for the program.

Vilsack's remarks came after he met with a handful of Las Vegas-area business leaders at the East Las Vegas Community Center. He is the latest cabinet member to pitch President Barack Obama's policies in Las Vegas in advance of the 2012 presidential contest. Nevada is among several swing states that could decide the race.

Federal leaders have hosted roughly 30 roundtables in the area this year.

White House officials say passing Obama's jobs act would strengthen Nevada's struggling economy by providing a tax cut for more than 50,000 businesses and creating 2,200 construction jobs through infrastructure projects. They claim extending unemployment insurance would initially help 35,200 people receiving benefits.

Vilsack also highlighted Obama's call for Congress to extend and enlarge the existing Social Security payroll tax cut.

"You can't just cut your way out of a deficit," he said.

Republican National Committee spokesman Ryan Mahoney slammed the Obama administration for "campaigning in Nevada on the taxpayers' dime."

Vilsack said he traveled to Las Vegas to "help businesses in this state see export opportunities."