Staff spotlight: Laurie has big goals and high hopes for new position

Since 1990, the Center for Rural Affairs’ Rural Enterprise Assistance Project (REAP), has provided services to micro businesses throughout Nebraska. Because of financial assistance, and/or training provided through REAP, countless small businesses have grown and thrived, and just as many eager entrepreneurs have seen their dreams come true by opening their own businesses.

To lead a program which offers that much opportunity and gives so many people hope is a giant undertaking, but it’s one that Laurie Donnell is excited to begin.

Recently, Laurie took on the role of REAP director. Through the program, entrepreneurs can create a business plan, research potential markets and marketing ideas, discuss management issues with experienced business specialists, and apply for a small business loan.

“The mission and vision of the Center is in direct alignment with my own core values,” she said. “We both want to drive small business forward in the state of Nebraska.”

Center Executive Director Brian Depew added, “We’re thrilled to have Laurie on board to help lead our small business lending and services forward. We know how much opportunity there is in rural Nebraska. We want to serve even more small businesses in the future, and Laurie can help us get there.”  

With 25 years of Small Business Administration lending experience, Laurie is well-prepared for the task at hand. She has also executed two successful turnaround efforts; one with a failing restaurant, and the other with a qualitative market research company, experience that gives her unique insight into business assistance.

One of the Center’s commitments is to strengthen rural communities through small, self-employed business development. The Center offers four essential services: financing, business training, technical assistance, and networking. Laurie plans to build on these already successful services.

“I look forward to growing the lending capacity at the Center, and making a substantial impact on the future growth of small business in our state,” she said. “My hope is to eventually become the number one Small Business Administration microlender in the nation.”

Laurie’s passion for small business in rural America comes from a long family history of hard work and perseverance. A fourth generation farmer from Gordon, Nebraska, Laurie says it all started with her grandmother, who was raised in a “dug-out” home in the Sandhills, along with her 11 siblings. Since then, no one in her family has been a stranger to the rural lifestyle.

“Growing up, I was active in 4-H, and learned the value of hard work, planning, budgeting, and self-sufficiency,” she said. “Our family still operates a successful farming operation, and I have dedicated my career to assisting rural Nebraskans in building economic stability via self-employment.”

When she’s not working toward building a stronger rural America, Laurie loves to travel, golf, cook, and sew. She says her dream is to have a goat farm at her new home in rural Lyons.

Laurie serves the entire state of Nebraska, and can be reached at the Center’s main office at 402.687.2100 ext. 1026 or