Stepping Up During Difficult Economic Times

The past several years have been tough, and small business survival is a major concern. Discretionary spending often determines if a small business will make a profit. In a recession, discretionary income takes a sharp downturn. Other economic factors exert pressure as well. Markets continue to be squeezed from increasing competition, diminishing loyalty in local purchasing, and, in some cases, shrinking markets. The bottom line – small businesses are struggling to keep their heads above water. Owning and operating a small business is hard in the best of times. It’s doubly tough during the worst of times.

Small business lenders, banks and nonprofits have really pulled back in lending to small businesses due to the poor economy. The Center for Rural Affairs is well known for “stepping up to the plate” during times of crisis. REAP has been extra busy working with startup and existing rural entrepreneurs during this critical time. While many have pulled back, the Center for Rural Affairs’ REAP program has stepped up and substantially increased overall efforts.

The results of REAP over the past year are impressive and clearly show our commitment to make a difference during tough times. We need programs like REAP now more than ever. The demand for programs that assist microenterprise-size businesses (small businesses with 5 or fewer employees) far outweighs the available capacity. Small businesses need various “tools” to increase their chances of success in business. These tools include access to core services offered by REAP – access to lending capital, training, and one-on-one counseling and business planning assistance. Small businesses depend on these services in the best of times. Their needs expand dramatically in challenging economic times like these.

REAP staff work exceedingly hard to reach as many rural entrepreneurs as possible. We are proud to be making a major difference through very tough times. We will continue building our program’s scale due to the overwhelming need for services in rural Nebraska.

From July 1, 2008 to June 30, 2009, REAP provided assistance to over 1,850 entrepreneurs, placed 52 loans totaling $572,300, and leveraged an additional $869,200 from other sources. Our lending and assistance helped to create or retain 343 jobs. Since 1990, REAP has provided business development services to over 10,000 micro businesses. Historically, we have placed 652 loans totaling $4,944,696 while also leveraging an additional $10,362,605 from other sources.

Through good times and bad, REAP continues working towards achieving maximum scale in rural Nebraska. Past results show steady and consistent growth. REAP activities and initiatives planned for the future clearly show our commitment in working towards the goal of reaching all entrepreneurs in need of microenterprise development services in rural Nebraska.

Support from Funders Makes the Work Possible
The work of REAP and other microenterprise development programs would not be possible without adequate funding. REAP is funded through multiple sources. But funds for microenterprise work in Nebraska and all across the United States must be prioritized and increased if we are to reach the demand for our services. Microenterprise development plays a vital role in the whole economic development framework and must be expanded to reach maximum capacity.

REAP is fortunate to work with a group of supportive funders. They understand the critical need for microenterprise development services and the great impact created through this work. Funding to make the work of REAP possible includes the Community Development Block Grant program through the Nebraska Department of Economic Development, Nebraska Enterprise Fund through the Nebraska Microenterprise Development Act, Small Business Administration Microloan and Women’s Business Center Programs, the United States Department of Agriculture, and many foundations and gracious donors.

Future Plans for REAP
As we continue planning for the coming year and beyond, more collaboration and innovations are in the works. In addition to further improvements with online items, REAP Women’s Business Center trainings will again be critical to our progress, and we will continue to expand outreach through the REAP Hispanic Business Center. The fourth annual statewide event for entrepreneurs, MarketPlace, is being planned for February 2010. Most importantly, REAP staff will remain committed to providing critical and timely assistance to entrepreneurs, both start-up and existing businesses across rural Nebraska.

REAP is striving to achieve maximum scale in rural Nebraska. We are committed to strengthening rural communities through small, self-employed business development, and we look forward to making a critical difference for all startup and existing small businesses in rural Nebraska in need of core small business services.

Contact: Jeff Reynolds, REAP Program Director, at 402.656.3091 or jeffr@cfra.org for more information. You can also visit REAP online at www.cfra.org/reap.