From the desk of the executive director: entrepreneurship lifts families and sustains communities

The Center for Rural Affairs is a small business lender, but we are different than a bank. In the last year, we made loans to support 126 small businesses in rural Nebraska, investing a total of $2.4 million. For us, that is just the start of our work.

We know that capital alone cannot ensure success. Education, training, and mentoring are essential to establishing any new business. That is why our business specialists work with business owners on planning, projections, and helping navigate the details that come along with running a small business.

For example, we offer a class called the Cleaning Academy where participants learn skills to develop cleaning based businesses. The course covers everything from cleaning techniques to contract and billing. Graduates receive a certification they can use in marketing their business. Graduates report that the class helped them formalize their business, attract new clients, and increase revenue.

We do this work because we believe in the value of widespread ownership. We believe that the ability to own and build your own business should be widely available—including to those who do not inherit a business or have access to traditional capital sources.

We know that strong small businesses create jobs, help people build assets, and are essential for the long-term sustainability of our small towns. Entrepreneurial development also creates opportunities for young people in rural areas.

It is a proven model. A longitudinal study of similar organizations conducted by the Aspen Institute demonstrated that this approach to business development works. Through a combination of business assistance and financing, participants are able to increase household income, reduce poverty, and reduce reliance on public benefit programs. The same study found that with proper supports, the working poor were able to use small businesses to create jobs for both themselves and others in their community.

The Center’s small business program serves rural Nebraska. There are similar programs serving most states and regions around the country. To increase funding for programs offering small business services in rural areas, the Center drafted and won the Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program in the 2008 farm bill, a program that has supported similar work in over 40 states now.

Small entrepreneurship is one of the most promising strategies for creating genuine opportunity in rural communities. Whether it reaches its full potential depends on whether communities embrace it and whether public policy supports it.

Feature photo: We know that capital alone cannot ensure the success of a small business. So, we offer education, training, and mentoring. One of our free trainings is QuickBooks Advanced. A complete calendar can be found at cfra.org/reap/events. | Photo by Rhea Landholm