A Quarter Century Serving Rural Entrepreneurs

The Center for Rural Affairs’ Rural Entrepreneurs Assistance Program (REAP) began in January of 1990. As a REAP client, friend, partner, colleague, or a lover of small towns and rural communities, you have a lot to celebrate too during our 25th anniversary year.

REAP is respected nationally as an outstanding microenterprise development program. We’re one of the largest rural microenterprise development programs in the country. As the first microenterprise development program in Nebraska, we set a tone for excellence that continues today. Let’s take a look back.

A New Rural Economic Development Strategy
The rural Midwest suffered during the 1980’s and early 1990’s as a result of the farm crisis. High interest rates and low prices for traditional farm commodities caused many farmers to sellout.

Small towns and rural communitieslost population and demand for products and services dwindled. Rural communities were on the lookout for new strategies to replace losses due to a changing agricultural economy.

In 1989, the Center studied economic development approaches in six nearby states. Our report, Half a Glass of Water, revealed high rates of self-employment in rural areas. In follow-up meetings with micro business owners, three gaps in services emerged: training/technical assistance, lending, and networking.

Next Came a Gene, a Jennifer, and a Rose
Center staffer Gene Severens studied micro lending theory and visited the few micro lending models existing in the US at the time. Taking what he learned, Gene became the lead fundraiser and designer of REAP’s original groupbased peer lending model.

Jennifer Tully worked with Gene early on. She left after marrying, and Rose Jaspersen was hired. Rose brought her “Managing Mainstreet” business training skills to the Center. She designed the training component of the original REAP model, making it much more viable.

Gene and Rose traveled to Cedar Rapids, Nebraska (population 400) in the fall of 1990 to form the first REAP association. Cedar Rapids had been involved in the initial focus groups, and they requested to be the test site for a REAP association.

The first loan of $1,000 was made at Cedar Rapids in December. That was the maximum amount a first loan could be. No training or collateral was required. Now, 25 years later, we’ve placed close to 1,100 loans totaling over $11 million. We’ve leveraged over $19 million in loans from other sources due to our assistance.

Here’s to the Next 25 Years of Filling Critical Gaps
Our thanks go to a visionary and working Board of Directors, committed and talented staff, and receptive participants and partners. We filled a critical niche in 1990, and we continue to do so today. We look forward to your help in strengthening small towns and rural communities through small, self-employed business development!

You can find information about REAP here, and see our historic timeline here.