Unapologetically Rural: Small Business

This is the second section we posted from our 2014 annual report. (If you can't wait, download the whole annual report here.) 

We help small businesses in Nebraska at every stage of development from dreaming to planning to expanding.

On March 18, Maria Swenson of Alliance was honored for her entrepreneurship and her dedication and involvement among women business owners in her community. Swenson received the Center’s Women’s Business Center Entrepreneur of the Year Award.

Maria Swenson and her husband Carl wanted to create a business to serve troubled youth and their families in Western Nebraska. She took a first step in 2012 by contacting Jerry Terwilliger, one of the Center’s small business specialists. Maria was looking for help putting together a business plan for a new venture, MLCS (Making Life’s Changes Sustainable) Family & Youth Services.

Maria needed the full gamut of our small business development services: business planning, financing, training, and technical assistance. She received two loans to finance equipment and startup expenses. We also helped her get set up with QuickBooks, and she was off and running.

MLCS Family & Youth Services was not an overnight success. Maria struggled for 15 months to make the necessary connections with courts, law enforcement agencies, and local and state human service offices. She worked through employee issues and delayed payments from the state of Nebraska.

Like many rural entrepreneurs, the dream of owning her business was stronger than the mounting obstacles. Maria took on the challenges one by one. A local bank helped fund her payroll. Employees gained experience and trust. She was finally able to move forward with her business plan.

Maria now has offices in 4 western Nebraska towns – Alliance, Chadron, Sidney, and Gering. She paid off her loans from the Center and the bank. This small business is Making Life’s Changes Sustainable. That’s a bonus for troubled families and youth and for the Swenson’s – rural and proud!

Highlights of 2014

  • We became officially certified as a Community Development Financial Institution. We’re excited because this means we can offer more services to more low-income individuals and communities.
  • Our Hispanic Business Center staff reached 2,462 people with training, one-on-one counseling, and loans.
  • We made over $1.4 million in business loans in 2014. Since we started in 1990, we’ve loaned $10.9 million.
  • Our policy team won a renewal of $3 million annually for small business development through the farm bill’s Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program.