2009 Annual Report

The Center for Rural Affairs makes one promise – we will persevere as a committed force improving life in rural America and a steadfast voice for the values that reflect the best in rural people. This is our report to you on what we’ve done, so you can judge whether we’ve lived up to our commitment and earned your support.

Our focus on a stated set of rural values sets us apart. We don’t try to represent the narrow selfish interests of any group – even decent ordinary rural people. Rather, we work with decent ordinary rural people to take control of our common destiny to create a better future that reflects the values we share. We firmly believe that our true interest is best served when we work together in pursuit of what is right and good.

So we work to create genuine economic opportunity for all and a fair economy that enables all who contribute to nation’s prosperity to share in it. We fight for widespread ownership and the opportunity for all who work to own the fruits of their labor, because rural communities and American democracy are strongest when wealth is held in the hands of many, rather than a few.

The hyper pursuit of self-interest and hyper partisanship are rendering American democracy dysfunctional.

We value personal responsibility to conduct our private affairs with integrity and social responsibility to each do our part for the larger community. So we challenge rural people to embrace the responsibilities of citizenship and work with others to advance the common good. And because we each have a responsibility to the next generation to leave our land, air and water at least as well as we received it – we value stewardship.

You’ll see these values reflected in the reports on each of our individual programs. Our work in Nebraska to support rural community and micro enterprise development helps create genuine opportunity and widespread ownership. We advance these values nationwide by working for federal policies that support small business, rural community and renewable energy development and reverse the bias toward bigness that undermines family farms and ranches.

We entered the health reform debate to advance fairness – to ensure that ordinary working and self-employed rural Americas have access to affordable health insurance and care. It’s also critical to rural economic opportunity. We cannot build a strong rural economy if innovative rural Americans must choose between starting small businesses and family farms and having health insurance for their families.

You’ll see our commitment to stewardship in our work on new programs to reward farmers who protect the land and water. It’s also reflected in our writings asking you to take a balanced look at the scientific evidence that human activity is causing climate change at a quickening pace that presents significant risks to upcoming generations.

Democracy cannot survive without citizens of conscience bringing their values to the issues of the day. To make democracy really work, we must not only fight for our legitimate interests, but also summon the virtue to temper our pursuit of self-interest with a commitment to shared values that define the common good.

The hyper pursuit of self-interest and hyper partisanship are rendering American democracy dysfunctional. The solution must start with grassroots citizens of conscience modeling the change America needs.

That includes resisting the instinct of partisans to see only good in their own side and only evil in the other. We take that seriously at the Center. We apply a dose of honest accountability to both parties. In the last year – nearly every year – we have publicly criticized and publicly supported actions by prominent elected officials of both major parties.

We also recognize that living up to values like fairness starts at home. We are proud that the ratio of our highest to lowest salary for full-time staff has remained around 2:1, even as some nonprofits have mirrored the corporate world with outrageous top salaries.

So take a look at this report to get a fresh overview of the Center for Rural Affairs, and let us know what you think. We won’t always agree, but we can learn from each other and thereby find the new approaches we need to make rural America thrive again.

Chuck Hassebrook, Executive Director
chuckh@cfra.org or 402.687.2103 x 1018

Rural America and the Health Reform Debate

Health care reform roared onto the national agenda in 2009. Concerned about the affordability and access to health care for small businesses, farmers and ranchers and rural people, the Center advocated ensuring that any health care reform passed by Congress addressed rural issues. Through analysis, media and grassroots organizing, we quickly became the leading rural voice in the health care debate.

Our work on health care reform filled a vacuum that existed in the national debate. Rural people and communities have unique challenges that often are not recognized by those in Washington. Our efforts brought the issues of 60 million people who call rural America home to the attention of policymakers and the national media. In so doing, we helped shape the reform proposals so that they will work better for rural people.

Through a series of eight reports we highlighted rural issues in health insurance affordability, access to primary care in our communities and barriers to effective wellness and prevention in rural America. We released two of our reports in Washington – one at a meeting organized by the White House and a second before a Congressional briefing on rural health care.

With solid analysis as a basis, Center staff and supporters were a clear voice for the need to make the health care system work for rural people in the media throughout the Midwest and Plains and across the country. National Public Radio, Reuters and Clear Channel Radio all highlighted rural health care issues and featured our work. Our media efforts took us on the road and media staff visited Montana, Wisconsin, Iowa and many places between.

We held more than 25 meetings in communities in six states, talking with many of you about health care challenges in your community and providing trainings on engaging in the policy process. For the first time ever, we hired staff in Montana to expand our reach.

Many of you attended meetings with your representative, wrote letters and made phone calls. Nine supporters took the next step and traveled with us to Washington to talk directly with elected officials there.

Our efforts on health care reform over the last year represent the values that guide all of the work at the Center for Rural Affairs. This includes a sense of the common good and fairness that will allow rural people to participate in a fair economy that creates prosperity for all. In order to build a sustainable rural economy based on entrepreneurship and opportunity, reforms to the current health care system are absolutely necessary.

This work will continue in the coming year as the national debate progresses. If health care reform is passed by Congress and becomes law, the Center will advocate with administrative officials to make sure new provisions are implemented in ways that work well for rural communities.

For more information: Contact Brian Depew, Assistant Director, briand@cfra.org 402.687.2103 x 1015; or Jon Bailey, Research & Analysis Program Director, jonb@cfra.org or 402.687.2103 x 1013.

Farm, Small Business and Energy Policy Roundup

In the last year we secured new funding for rural small business development, helped beginning and family farmers and ranchers access new programs, secured and promoted new conservation initiatives, continued our efforts to reform farm programs to support family farms, and ramped up our work on energy policy.

Early in the year, we won a major new commitment of federal funds for rural small business development when the president recommended and Congress adopted an increase in funding for the Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program, a program we helped win in the 2008 farm bill. After a long delay, we anticipate that the program will be fully launched before the end of this summer with $13 million in funding available in the first year.

While we won new federal funding for small business development, we fought against budget cuts to a similar program in Nebraska. The Nebraska microenterprise development program suffered two cuts in 2009, reducing investment in Nebraska entrepreneurship by more than a million dollars. On a more positive not, we successfully fought off efforts to cut the Nebraska Value Added Agriculture program.

We launched our Farm Bill Helpline to help family farmers and ranchers better use farm bill programs we helped win in the 2008 farm bill. The Helpline focuses on programs to assist beginning farmers, encourage conservation, implement sustainable production systems and develop new markets. It provides valuable insights on how these programs are working on the ground, enabling us to identify needed refinements and make the case for them to the Department of Agriculture.

The fight to target farm payments to family farmers focused on administrative rules last year. The U.S. Department of Agriculture had the opportunity to close loopholes that allow megafarms and nonfarm investors to collect unlimited payments. But in a rebuke of President Obama’ s own campaign pledge, the Department instead issued rules that once again utterly fail to institute sensible restrictions on farm program payments.

The debate over climate and energy legislation reached a new level in Washington and in our home statehouse this year. At the national level, we worked to promote a federal standard to require 20 percent of the electricity generated in our country to come from renewable sources. Such a requirement would spur wind development throughout the country, creating good paying jobs in rural communities. We published analysis showing that Great Plains states would gains tens of thousands of new permanent jobs.

At the state level, we are proposing policies to ensure wind development benefits rural people and communities – not just large investors. Our proposal would create tax incentives for wind developers to contribute stock to a new Nebraska Rural Trust to invest in the future of our rural communities. It also includes incentives to establish employee stock ownership plans so employees can build a long-term ownership stake in the wind farms where they work.

On each front – farm, small business and energy policy, our work will continue in 2010.

For more information: Contact Traci Bruckner, Assistant Policy Program Director, tracib@cfra.org or 402.687.2103 x 1016; or Brian Depew. Assistant Director, briand@cfra.org or 402.687.2103 x 1015.

Center Aids Communities in Developing Assets

In the last year we worked hand-in-hand with rural people and communities, serving rural Nebraska with our sustainable agriculture, beginning farmers and ranchers and community development work.

We put together the first Renewable Energy Fair in Hartington. It featured wind and solar energy applications, electric vehicles, energy conservation, climate change discussions and bioenergy production. Hartington was the site of our early pioneering work on energy conservation in the Small Farm Energy Project, so it was fitting to return. Planning for a second Energy Fair in Lyons is underway.

In a pilot project, we educated Nebraska’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) employees about organic programs to help farmers and ranchers access federal funds for organic farming. The program reached 40 NRCS staff and will be carried to four more states in the coming year.

Interest in the Center’s beginning farmer information clearinghouse remained at or near the 6000 visits/month benchmark. We also directly advised over 400 beginners from across the country. Our website materials were updated and expanded to be more useful to beginning and retiring farmers and ranchers.

We looked at the assets available in western Nebraska’s grasslands and assisted new and existing ecotourism businesses with business training and ways to enhance their lands with interesting plants and animals. Folks came together for marketing and learning about ecotourism business management.

Our “Learning to Lead” program resulted in county-wide leadership development in several northeast Nebraska communities. We helped build the capacity of their citizens through technology training. They are now positioned to develop small businesses and market their towns to potential new residents.

New projects came online in 2009 as well. We piloted a community-wide assessment program to identify strengths, key issues facing their town, and planning for the future. In western Nebraska we are helping a small community create a student business incubator. The flagship student-run business is a much needed grocery store. Our efforts to build a Small Business Network, in which small rural businesses can provide goods and services to larger urban businesses, went forward in spite of the recession.

MarketPlace continues to be successful for the fourth year, consistently drawing 4-500 participants from Nebraska and beyond. We expanded to Kansas in 2009, presenting an energetic and uniquely Kansan event in Hays. MarketPlace is working – growing new businesses and jobs across the state.

A sample of 31 business owners reported that, as a direct result of attending the conference, 7 new businesses were started and 14 additional jobs added. Imagine those results echoed through the other hundreds who have experienced MarketPlace, and you see the power of entrepreneurism for the rural economy.

In 2010, we’re rolling out a new Rural Community Development program, RC Thrive. A community garden project in South Sioux City will result in new beginning farmers, and efforts to create regional food networks and farm-to-school programs will strengthen opportunities for beginning farmers and ranchers across the region.

We are privileged to meet and work with a number of incredible people, and we thank you all for allowing us to be of service.

For more information: Contact Kathie Starkweather, Rural Opportunities & Stewardship Program Director, kathies@cfra.org or 402.438.8496.

REAP Helps Small Rural Businesses Grow

Since 1990, REAP has provided business development services to over 10,000 micro businesses. Loans totaling $5,215,746 have been placed due to REAP assistance.

The success of small rural entrepreneurs depends on access to loan capital, business management training, networking and one-on-one business counseling. The Center’s Rural Enterprise Assistance Program, better known as REAP, works with Nebraska startup and existing small businesses with five or fewer employees on a statewide rural basis. Since 1990, REAP has offered training, networking, one-on-one technical assistance, and small loans to businesses. 

REAP had a record-setting year helping small businesses access financing. While traditional lenders pulled back in 2009, we placed more micro loans than ever before. We did not flinch in supporting the next generation of micro businesses that just may lead us out of this recession. Through the services of our Women’s Business Center and Hispanic Business Center, we also drew the interest of new rural entrepreneurs across the state.

Brad & Gina BabbWe don’t only work with new businesses. REAP also helps existing businesses to develop and expand. The Babbs in Ord are a good example. Brad and Gina Babb relocated to Ord in 1998, when they accepted a position with Sandhills Glass & Garage Doors. Brad’s step father was part owner, and he was grooming Brad to take over for him when he decided to retire. Unexpectedly, he passed away in 2007. His partner didn’t want to continue operating the business, preferring to sell and dissolve the corporation. The business closed.

Brad and Gina started working on a business plan and pursuing options to purchase the business. This led to a collaborative loan package involving the local bank, Ord Revolving Loan Fund and REAP. Sandhills Glass & Garage Doors reopened under Brad and Gina’s ownership in the summer of 2008.

The Babbs continue to grow their business at Ord, and were recent recipients of the Center for Rural Affairs’ Entrepreneur Award for 2009. The Association for Enterprise Opportunity (AEO) have also selected the Babb’s business (one of four nationwide) to be filmed for a documentary for the new AEO website.

Overall in 2009 (fiscal year), REAP:

  • Trained or counseled nearly 2,000 entrepreneurs.
  • Placed 60 loans totaling $659,250.
  • Leveraged an additional $779,200 from other sources due to our assistance.
  • Helped to create or retain 337.5 jobs through lending and technical assistance.

 

Since 1990, REAP has provided business development services to over 10,000 micro businesses. Historically, we have placed 685 loans totaling $5,215,746 while also leveraging an additional $11,577,549 from other sources due to REAP assistance.

For more information: Contact Jeff Reynolds, REAP Program Director, at 402.656.3091 or jeff@cfra.org. Find REAP on the web at www.cfra.org/reap.

Annual Report Newsletter Issue

It has become a tradition to include the Center for Rural Affairs annual report in our March newsletter. Like many of you, we had both wins and losses last year, but because of your support, we are heading into the new decade with our finances in order and our will as strong and determined as ever.

The primary reason for our optimism is you – our supporters. Please take a moment and look over the names of all our donors in 2009 and so far in 2010. And if your name isn’t there yet, you can easily change that! Make an online donation, and you’ll be giving two gifts – support for our work and renewal of your newsletter subscription.

If you can’t afford to give, just send us an email anyway. We need all our voices raised on behalf of rural America. Together we can change our future.

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