From the desk of the executive director: the little program that could

Let me tell you a story. It’s a story of a little program called RMAP. Sounds wonky, right?

It’s the Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program, which is part of the larger farm bill. The story started a long time ago.

A Center study in the late 1980s showed a high rate of self-employment in rural areas, but few economic development strategies to help this sector. The more rural the area, the higher the rate of self-employment, the report documented. This research led us to expand our programs to serve small businesses.

We launched our Rural Enterprise Assistance Project in 1990 to serve rural Nebraska businesses. We led efforts to win passage of the Nebraska Microenterprise Development Act in 1994. That program has invested more than $10 million in small business development in the state since.

We know small businesses add to the opportunities for small-town residents to earn an ownership stake and support their communities, advancing values of the Center.

As we expanded our policy focus nationally, we heard from rural leaders trying to start or expand microenterprise programs but struggled to attract enough resources. Our experience in Nebraska informed the next move—a national campaign to win a new program to support rural small businesses.

The idea for the Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program was born. Starting in 2006, our staff traveled from North Dakota to North Carolina to organize Center supporters and partners around the idea.

We called on some of you to make calls that year. Your action helped us win critical votes in committee. In 2008, we won the program as part of the new farm bill.

With strong support, we won renewal of the program in 2014.

Then, the effort almost hit the rocks in 2018 when Congress reauthorized the program but stripped away all the funding.

We sprung to action. We called on you with a flurry of action alerts.

In a move that surprised even our staff, our congressional champions won a last-minute change in the annual appropriations bill to fund the program. We’ll fight each year to renew this funding.

RMAP is unique. It’s the only federal program that supports revolving loan funds along with grants to business assistance organizations working exclusively in rural areas.

We need a federal economic policy that works for everyday rural Americans. That includes ensuring we deliver capital and training to support our small-town businesses. RMAP delivers on that need.

Since 2008, RMAP has capitalized revolving loan funds with more than $72 million and provided grants to small business development organizations in excess of $21 million. The loan funds revolve in each region, so the total impact to rural small businesses is well over $100 million. The grant funds support training and hands-on coaching with even more businesses.

One business launched with the help of the program is Chatterbox Brews in Tekamah, Nebraska. Cindy Chatt opened the brewpub in her hometown in 2017. RMAP has helped lift up businesses like hers in 45 states stretching from Maine to California.

It’s the little program that could. It exists all because of you.