A Message from Chuck
We set high standard for ourselves at the Center. We strive to change the course of history in rural America; to work with you to create a future based on fairness, opportunity, community and stewardship. But big plans mean nothing unless we produce results.
With this annual report, we share some differences we made for rural America in 2011.
- Small business development and beginning farmer programs were expanded or launched across rural America with funding through federal programs we helped win in the last farm bill.
- The US Department of Agriculture has proposed regulations to finally enforce legislation prohibiting meatpackers from unfair pricing that disadvantages smaller livestock producers, in response to 15 years of our work.
- With the Center providing the nation’s leading rural voice for making insurance more affordable and health care accessible to rural people, Congress passed the Affordable Health Care Act.
- A collaboration of private organizations and public institutions formed in Nebraska to help more beginners get started in farming.
We passed the benchmark of assisting 12,000 rural Nebraskans in starting or improving small businesses through our REAP program. In addition to providing business training and technical assistance, it has $6 million out in loans and has enabled rural businesses to secure $13 million from other lenders. REAP provided the basis for federal legislation we won to enable organizations in other states to provide similar services.
Our MarketPlace conference for rural entrepreneurs drew over 600 Nebraskans. A survey of past participants told us the lessons they learned at MarketPlace enabled them to add over 1,300 jobs. We have MarketPlace off and running in Kansas, and the groundwork is laid for launching a South Dakota MarketPlace this year.
Of course, some of our work has yet to produce results. The most important advances in history result from determined struggle that spans generations before coming to fruition. And we not only persevered in the difficult work of changing history, we gained strength in 2010.
With your help, our balance sheet grew stronger in spite of the tough economy. Our staff grew in dedication, ability and experience, as we continue to attract a new generation of idealistic, young rural Americans committed to building a better future.
Thanks to each of you who through your words, actions and financial support have joined with us to advance our important work.
Chuck Hassebrook, Executive Director
A Rural Voice in Washington
Last year we worked with you, the media and policymakers to be a clear voice for rural people, small businesses and family farms. Staff and supporters met with senators, representatives and administrative officials in Washington nearly 24 times, organized meetings and attended gatherings in 15 states, including nearly 50 meetings reaching thousands of people directly.
We issued policy reports on major issues that helped inform our advocacy and provided analysis that kept rural issues in the media spotlight. Collectively, these efforts led to the following policy outcomes.
A rural small business program we helped win launched in 2010, making $8 million in grants to rural small business development groups and providing an additional $25 million in loan capital for rural entrepreneurs.
We continued working to strengthen family farms and ranches through policy that supports value added markets, conservation and beginning farmers. We helped farmers access federal programs and learned from them how well the programs are working. That knowledge forms the basis of our advocacy to improve policy.
With supporters and allies we worked hard to build support for a national renewable electricity standard. Our polling found overwhelming support in two important states, and grassroots advocacy helped win the support of two key senators. The issue was delayed in Washington by partisan rancor, but the long-term push for energy that renews our communities and our environment will go on.
We worked to improve and expand access to health care in rural America. The Affordable Care Act, passed in 2010, is already providing tax credits to many rural small businesses who offer coverage, closing the Medicare “donut hole,” and prohibiting lifetime caps on coverage. By 2014, tax credits for middle-class families who buy their own insurance will become available, and a health insurance marketplace in each state will help individuals and small businesses find quality coverage. We will keep working to strengthen the law to help solve the health care challenges rural people face.
At home, we are building leaders and providing a clear voice for rural communities, small business development, value added agriculture and clean energy at the state capitol in Nebraska.
Our policy victories would not be possible without your active engagement in community meetings, media and contacting elected officials. Visit www.cfra.org/signup to receive our policy updates and alerts in the coming year.
Brian Depew, Assistant Director
Center Produces Wide and Varied Research
In a year when public discourse was dominated by health care reform, the Center continued to lift up the need for effective reform for rural people and rural communities. We published four policy reports on health care issues and started the What’s In It series to highlight provisions in the Affordable Care Act of most importance to rural people and communities.
Our work has been received by rural people who recognize the need to change the health care status quo. Nearly 300 people per month visit the health care section of our website, and in the past year our health care reform policy reports received over 100 references in national news service, major regional newspapers and trade publications.
Those same reports were the subject of eight Center weekly columns, distributed to over 1,200 rural newspapers. They were also the subject of reports on over 500 radio stations throughout the nation – from Nevada to New York – with an estimated listening audience of nearly 3 million, and on the national Clear Channel network of over 800 radio stations with an estimated listening audience of 97 million.
Of course, health care is not the only issue we research and analyze. We also did three reports on small business development, including an analysis of our biennial survey of participants in our Rural Enterprise Assistance Project (REAP).
This survey and its analysis is one of the leading reviews of what rural small businesses and prospective businesses need, and provides a unique glimpse of the rural small business economy. In 2010 and 2008, the Small Business Administration Nebraska district office publicized the survey analysis results and sponsored joint press conferences with the Center and US Representative Adrian Smith of Nebraska.
We published two reports on issues and challenges facing rural grocery stores and ownership models that grocery stores in rural communities could use. This work and other commentary on food access issues facing rural communities struck a nerve among rural people and the rural media.
Our rural grocery store reports produced media requests from over 20 states, national news service articles, and appearances on national rural and agricultural radio programs. More importantly, our work on rural grocery store issues resulted in countless contacts from people seeking solutions to the challenges facing their rural community.
You can find links to all the reports mentioned here.
Jon Bailey, Rural Research & Analysis Director
Community Development Takes Off
Last year brought some terrific new projects and allowed us to meet some incredible people. We had the privilege of working in Cody, Nebraska, a community of 149 people who had been without a grocery store for over 10 years.
Residents of Cody faced a round-trip drive of 80 miles to purchase groceries. Together with students, teachers, and community leaders, we are developing a student business incubator, with a student-run grocery store as the flagship business.
In South Sioux City, Nebraska, we helped Hispanic gardeners apply organic practices as they developed two community gardens. We hope some of these new market gardeners will take the next step to a larger farming operation.
By the end of the first growing season, 17 garden spots were filled with plentiful harvests. The gardens produced more than our gardeners and their families could consume, so local churches and the Food Pantry became the lucky recipients of the surplus. We expect to fill all 60 plots in the coming growing season.
MarketPlace, our rural entrepreneurship conference, continues to succeed in Nebraska. Small rural businesses are adding jobs and increasing revenue as a result of the event. A survey of attendees from 2007-2009 indicated that about 20 percent of small businesses saw a positive impact. Half of those businesses experienced a 10 percent increase in revenue. The other half saw revenue increases from 15 to 40 percent.
Lyons, Nebraska, was the site of our second Renewable Energy Fair last summer, with excellent attendance from all across Nebraska and beyond. Presentations focused on everything from thermal solar to small wind development.
We’re helping to provide healthy, nutritious food to school children in Midwestern states from North Dakota to Oklahoma through our involvement in Farm to School. This work is also creating additional markets for farmers. We draw nearly 6,000 people every month to our website in search of beginning farming information – successful farming strategies, how to find financing, linking to a retiring farmer or rancher and more.
In 2011 we’ll continue strengthening these partnerships and starting new projects in communities across Nebraska.
Kathie Starkweather, Rural Opportunities & Stewardship Director
Demand for REAP Services Escalates
The past year was tough for small business. Lenders, including banks and nonprofits, pulled back on lending. The Center for Rural Affairs is known for “stepping up to the plate” in times of crisis. Our Rural Enterprise Assistance Project is no exception, reaching record numbers of startup and existing rural entrepreneurs last year.
REAP staff work with small businesses with 10 or fewer employees across rural Nebraska. We have the largest full-service microenterprise development program in Nebraska, offering small business management training, networking, one-on-one technical assistance and small loans. Our Hispanic Business Center and Women’s Business Center deliver trainings and specialized services to entrepreneurs.
Demand for REAP loans skyrocketed in 2010. Staff works one-on-one with small businesses, helping with loans. But just as likely, we collaborate with partners to leverage our loan funds. Dave Fredrick’s situation is a good example. Dave opened Technology First, LLC, in Atkinson, Nebraska, in Jan. 2008. His business grew rapidly, employing three technicians and an office manager. By fall, high school interns had been added to help spark an interest in computer repair. By summer the business had eight employees.
Seeing the opportunity for expansion, Dave used Community Development Block Grant reuse funds to open a second store in O’Neill, Nebraska. He then set his sights on Ord. A collaborative effort to purchase and expand an existing business in Ord was begun in the summer of 2010. The collaboration involved a commercial bank, Valley County Economic Development Office/Ord Chamber of Commerce, and REAP (we provided the technical assistance in putting together the financial projections). A loan from a bank and from the Ord Revolving Loan Fund was approved, and the change over took place in Jan. 2011.
This example shows the determination and skill rural entrepreneurs use to establish and grow their businesses, even in these lean times. Access to partners like REAP and the organizations we work with is invaluable for them, not only in lending, but also in training, networking, and technical assistance. While loans are easy to highlight, the other components are every bit as valuable in growing the rural economy.
Our statistics support this. For example, in the past year, REAP staff:
- Trained or counseled nearly 2,300 entrepreneurs.
- Placed 57 loans totaling $769,250 and leveraged an additional $1,879,944 from other sources.
- Helped to create or retain 452.0 jobs through lending and technical assistance.
Historically, REAP has placed 756 loans totaling over $6.2 million while also leveraging close to $13 million from other sources due to REAP assistance. Find out more about REAP here.
Jeff Reynolds, REAP Director
Center’s Board Sees Changes
We welcomed three new board members last year: Adriana Dungan, Becky Gould and Kayla Schneulle. And we bid farewell Cynthia Thomsen, a retiring member of the board.
Adriana Dungan lives in South Sioux City, Nebraska, and was the Center’s first director of the REAP Hispanic Business Center.
Becky Gould is the Executive Director of the Nebraska Appleseed Center for Law in the Public Interest, a nonpartisan, nonprofit public interest law firm that advocates for equal justice and full opportunity for all Nebraskans.
Kayla Schneulle works with the Nebraska Rural Initiative at the University of Nebraska. A resident of Diller, Kayla grew up on a cow-calf operation south of Valentine. Eventually she wants to start her own business to live and work in rural Nebraska.
Cynthia Thomsen served on the board for nearly a decade. As an educator, she brought insights into rural education. As a farmer and leader in Women Involved in Farm Economics, she informed farm policy discussions and connected us to others in farm bill debates. Thanks, Cynthia, for your service to us and to rural America. You can find all the members of the Center’s board here.
Succession Plan Developed
One of the most critical issues for the Center for Rural Affairs is planning for changes in leadership. I have no plans to leave the Center. But now in my 34th year with the Center and 15th year as director, I have a lot invested in this organization.
I am determined to do things now that enable the Center to thrive after I am gone. It’s my responsibility and my passion.
The Nominations Committee of the board of directors, senior staff and I have developed a succession plan for my departure, whether it be gradual and planned or sudden and unexpected. The full board will consider the succession plan for adoption this month.
The plan scripts immediate steps to be taken by the board and also addresses the long-term need to develop staff and grow leadership from within. In my experience, organizations that last do so in part by building an internal leadership pipeline. They grow their own leaders, who are ingrained in their culture and deeply committed to their mission and values.
Toward that end, we have appointed Brian Depew as assistant director. Brian is a bright and committed young man determined to build a better future in rural America. He hails from a family farm in Northwest Iowa, near Lorenz. His experience ranges from running his own hog operation to working toward a PhD in Agricultural Philosophy and Rural Sociology to leading our advocacy in support of affordable health care.
If you haven’t met him, stop by or invite him to speak in your area so you can get to know him.
Chuck Hassebrook, Executive Director
Development Matters: Annual Report Issue
Since 2008, we have reserved the March issue of our newsletter to bring you the results of our work over the last year. The issue is a little longer than normal, in part so we can salute those individuals who have contributed to our work.
Our supporters provide the Center’s most important resource, and we could not do our work without you. If you have any questions about this issue or how you can help support our work, please contact Matt Connealy, 402.687.2103 x 1009 or firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d be more than happy to discuss the options with you. Thank you to all Center supporters!