Seeing investments in small businesses firsthand ‘incredibly exciting’ for USDA official

Small Towns

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Through her mother’s example, Cesia Madrigal Góngora and other family members are learning to fight for their dreams.  

“I like to teach her and my grandchildren that we are in a country where we have to do our best to take opportunities when they are presented,” Cesia’s mother, Olga Góngora, said through an interpreter.

The Schuyler, Nebraska business owner has certainly lived by those words since moving to the community.  As she searched for employment, Olga was told by a local business owner he’d consider hiring her if she had more computer skills. So, she enrolled in basic computer skills classes offered by the Center for Rural Affairs and eventually landed the job. 

Soon, she began dreaming about having her own business and tried a couple of times, but it didn’t work out. After taking classes and technical assistance provided by the Center, Olga’s Shop is now open in downtown Schuyler. 

On April 12, with her daughter nearby and a smile on her face, Olga shared her love for her community and the ability its residents have “to do great things” with a special guest: Xochitl Torres Small, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s under secretary for rural development. 

Torres Small was in Schuyler to see firsthand how USDA Rural Development programs, specifically small business technical assistance and loans through the Center, are helping rural communities.   

“To get to see that in action, the difference that it makes for a community, the difference it makes for a small business owner, is incredibly exciting,” she said.

Rural America, she said, has been working hard to supply the rest of the country with many of the resources taken for granted—energy, food, and fiber. 

“That’s why it’s so important that we reinvest back into small communities,” she said. “When we look at the small businesses that are at the heart of so many places across rural America, these folks are working incredibly hard to make ends meet. And by providing a little bit of an investment, you see an enormous response. It turns into more jobs, it turns into opportunities for kids to grow up in those homes and communities, and they want to be able to stay there.”

While small business loans and technical assistance programs are helping turn dreams of business ownership into reality, Schuyler is also taking steps to make local business owners feel welcome.  

“When I first took this position, that was something that was very loud and clear—inclusivity,” said Schuyler Chamber of Commerce Director Audra Jedlicka. “We know that everybody cares for each other in this community, but with the communication language barrier, that was just a struggle. That’s where we have been opening the doors, and that’s what has been building the relationships.” 

The community is taking baby steps and growing every day, she said.

One such step came during the chamber’s annual dinner, where Spanish-speaking guests were able to listen to the full event, including the keynote speaker, in Spanish thanks to a transmitter device. The event program was also printed in English and Spanish.

Nina Lanuza, senior community organizing associate for the Center, said organizers received numerous thank yous from guests, saying the effort made them feel welcome and part of the event.

“We had business owners who have been here 30 to 35 years who attended for the first time, and they are getting involved,” she said. “They knew the sincerity was there.”

In addition to investments in rural small businesses, Torres Small said USDA Rural Development is also making investments in small meat processors through the new Meat and Poultry Intermediary Lending Program. Earlier this year, the Center announced the availability of $15 million in loan capital with assistance from the program.

“We know that the hard work that happens in rural America drives the success of all of America,” Torres Small said. “We saw that especially in the midst of COVID when we saw supply chains under incredible pressure. Farmers were not able to connect to a market, but at the same time, shoppers were in grocery stores trying to find meat.”

The Meat and Poultry Intermediary Lending Program will invest back into these rural places to make sure local processing can help support the food supply chain, she said.

In addition to visiting Olga’s Shop, Torres Small and a group also visited the Burrito House and Corn Taco. Sabino Hernández, who owns the popular food truck in Schuyler, is renovating a vacant former restaurant for a brick-and-mortar location for Corn Taco.

Others on the visit were Deb Schorr, district director for U.S. Rep. Mike Flood; Debbie Borg, agriculture and northeast Nebraska outreach director for U.S. Sen. Pete Ricketts; Kate Bolz, USDA Rural Development state director for Nebraska; Brian Depew, Center for Rural Affairs executive director; and Veronica Spindola, Center Latino loan specialist.

Feature photos: Top: Olga Góngora shares her journey to starting her own business in Schuyler with a group of visitors, including Xochitl Torres Small, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s under secretary for rural development.

Bottom: Sec. Torres Small talks with Center for Rural Affairs Executive Director Brian Depew and staff members Nina Lanuza and Veronica Spindola after a stop at Corn Taco.  |  Photos by Teresa Hoffman 

Photo 1: Xochitl Torres Small, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s under secretary for rural development, answers questions from reporters.
Photo 2: Chamber of Commerce Director Audra Jedlicka shares with Torres Small and others the work being done in Schuyler to make business owners feel welcome. 
Photo 3: Torres Small and others stop in at Olga's Shop in downtown Schuyler.
Photo 4: Torres Small visits with Sabino Hernández at Corn Taco. Also pictured is Kate Bolz.
Photo 5: Hernández talks with the group about the work he's doing to renovate and expand a vacant former restaurant into a brick-and-mortar location for Corn Taco.
Photo 6: Hernández, center, is pictured with Nina Lanuza, Veronica Spindola, Brian Depew, Torres Small, Debbie Borg, and Deb Schorr.
Photo 7: Olga Góngora, Cesia Madrigal Góngora, and Torres Small.
Photo 8: Torres Small and Hernández.

Photos by Teresa Hoffman and Kate Bolz.