2008 Annual Report

The Center for Rural Affairs worked with diligence and fought with integrity in 2008 to create genuine opportunity for rural people and a better future for our communities, while protecting the land and environment for our children and grandchildren.

We did not overcome every challenge. But we achieved a lot. We stood strong for the values and principles that define the best in rural America and that the Center represents – fairness, citizen responsibility, and a commitment to progress that serves the common good.


And we worked to extend the proven tradition that has strengthened our rural communities and nation – ownership of businesses, farms and ranches by those who work them.

Every year the Center strives to get better; to become the leader in creating a better future for rural people and communities. That drives us forward. In the past year we produced positive results while strengthening our capacity to work with rural Americans to together take control of our destiny.

The Center has become the leading voice for rural America in the regional and national news media. From the Scottsbluff Star Herald and the Des Moines Register to The Washington Post and Clear Channel Radio, we’ve brought the voice and concerns of rural America to the nation. This newsletter remains a leading source of news and perspective for those who care about rural America.

Working with many grassroots supporters and organizational allies, we won the only new funded rural development program in the farm bill, in addition to critical new support for beginning farmers and conservation. We lost our bid to win meaningful limits on payments to mega farms. But we spoke forcefully from the District of Columbia to the Dakotas on the moral bankruptcy of agricultural politics that favor subsidizing mega farms to drive smaller operations out of business instead of investing in the future of rural America.

We’re educating policymakers with our analysis of the unique rural challenges for health care finance reform in rural America, where coverage and income are lower and self employment and small business employment are higher. Equally important, we’re helping rural Americans understand the choices and engage in the debate.

Our REAP program reached new milestones as rural America’s leading program providing loans, training and assistance to microenterprise – owner-operated businesses with up to five employees. Last year REAP trained and counseled over 2,000 entrepreneurs and placed or leveraged over $1 M in loans to microenterprises. REAP also surpassed $4 M in loans directly placed with rural entrepreneurs and 10,000 businesses served since its inception.

The Center’s work with rural communities is testing cutting-edge approaches to development – including ecotourism, renewable energy, and drawing professionals back to their hometowns to launch Internet-based microbusinesses providing services to distant businesses. Our annual Marketplace event drew 600 people to explore entrepreneurial opportunities in rural America.

We also conduct our internal affairs with integrity. Our fiscal management is sound and conservative. Reserves deliberately built over two decades are in place to help carry us through the current fiscal downturn.

We’ve created a culture within the Center that reflects our values and offers staff the opportunity to work for shared convictions with supportive coworkers. We hold ourselves accountable to high standards in our work and to interact with coworkers in a way that recognizes their value and elevates overall morale.

A talented and dedicated board of directors guides the Center’s work, establishes its general plan and evaluates success in achieving the intended results. We’re making additions to ensure our board reflects the rural people we serve, including women and Latinos, while strengthening critical expertise in organizational leadership, grassroots engagement, and legal and financial management.

The Center for Rural Affairs is not just the staff and board. It’s also each of you working in your community, contacting policymakers, engaging your neighbors and donating. Without you, we can accomplish little.

This special annual report newsletter issue is our report to you. We hope it demonstrates the value of your investment of time and money in us. And we hope it inspires you to keep up the fight to build a better future in rural America.

 – Chuck Hassebrook, Executive Director

Success of REAP Helped Create or Retain 320 Jobs

The Rural Enterprise Assistance Project (REAP), a program of the Center for Rural Affairs, works with startup and existing small businesses with five or fewer employees across rural Nebraska. REAP once again had an exceptional year helping small business. The staff reached large numbers of rural entrepreneurs (over 2,000) and placed a lot of micro loans (45). REAP’s Women’s Business Center and Hispanic Business Center also continued to expand their programming and services.

Although the numbers are impressive, the people are what inspire the staff. Larry Harbour received REAP assistance in 2008. Larry established LB Custom Chrome and Detail, LLC, in Broken Bow, Nebraska, as a side job in 2001 and officially in 2006.

Larry and his wife moved to Broken Bow from Omaha in 1998. Like many entrepreneurs, Larry decided to take a risk by renting a shop in a downtown location in Broken Bow in October 2006. The risk paid off. For the first year, Larry’s detailing business had a 1-2 month wait list, and the business was off and rolling.

In the winter of 2007, Larry heard about REAP office hours at the Broken Bow Chamber of Commerce and decided to make an appointment. After months of working on a business plan with REAP Business Specialist, Dena Beck, Larry was approved by a local bank for a loan to expand his business to a new location in Broken Bow.

The expansion will allow LB Custom Chrome and Detail to add two additional jobs, totaling one part-time and two full-time. The assistance Larry received through REAP has been a difference maker, and REAP is very proud to have played a part in the successful expansion of Larry’s business!

And, back to those numbers: from October 1, 2007 to September 30, 2008, the REAP program:

  • Trained or counseled over 2,000 entrepreneurs.
  • Placed 45 loans totaling $429,491 and leveraged an additional $635,150 from other sources due to REAP assistance.
  • Helped to create or retain 320 jobs.

Since 1990, REAP has provided business development services to over 10,000 micro businesses. Historically, REAP has placed 616 loans totaling $4,478,346 while also leveraging an additional $9,872,805 from other sources due to REAP assistance.

Questions or comments about REAP can be addressed to Jeff Reynolds, REAP Program Director at 402.656.3091 or jeffr@cfra.org.


Leadership Development Key to Center’s Community Development

Successful rural community development comes in many forms, and developing good leaders is a key component (see our recent series on leadership in Oct.-Jan. newsletters). Leadership development was a big part of our community development work last year, and will continue to be. Read on to find out more about what we’ve been up to in rural Nebraska communities.

Strong micro-business development and support for micro businesses fuels successful rural community development. (A micro business has five or fewer employees.) So for three years in a row, the Center brought together a wide range of partners and collaborators at MarketPlace, a one day event that gives people the tools they need to be successful in small business and farming and ranching endeavors.

In 2008 we launched a project in northeast Nebraska partnering with the Northeast Economic Development District to create a small business network that links small rural businesses to larger urban and micro-politan businesses (micro-politan as defined by the U.S. Census is an urban center surrounded by counties or a region with a population between 10,000 and 50,000). The small businesses will provide goods and services to larger metro and micro-politan area businesses, creating a supplier network and also creating a peer-to-peer network among themselves.

The goal is to create new or expand already existing businesses. This type of activity can be used as a successful recruitment tool to bring new people to a community. The Center’s REAP staff will offer training and technical assistance. Students from the University of Nebraska - Omaha College of Information Science & Technology at the Peter Kiewit Institute will assist small businesses with website development.

Our rural development work has expanded to western Nebraska with ecotourism business assistance. We are helping landowners identify management practices to improve their wildlife habitat and potential for tourism enterprises. A spillover affect to nearby communities has generated interest in art galleries, coffee shops, bed and breakfasts, restaurants and more small businesses.

In 2009 we’ll continue the projects we’ve identified above along with others: community assessments; community development that includes sustainable agriculture as well as beginning farmers and ranchers; energy fairs; and an expanded focus on youth entrepreneurship. Our goal is to strengthen our communities and provide real opportunities for people to live and thrive in healthy, sustainable ways.

For more information, contact Kathie Starkweather, kathies@cfra.org or 402.438.8496.

Rural America Presents Unique Set of Health Care Challenges

Rural America presents a unique set of challenges for health care reform. Rural people have less access to health networks and health care providers, greater rates of disability and chronic diseases, and higher use rates of all public health care programs. And largely as a result of higher rates of self-employment and small business employment, rural Americans have lower rates of employer-provided benefits and are more likely to be underinsured or uninsured for longer periods of time. The 60 million people in rural America are most in need of health care system reform and have much to contribute to any reform debate.

Health care is also a major barrier to rural economic development that creates genuine opportunity and reduces poverty. Microenterprise and small business development is the most effective path in many communities for low and moderate-income rural people to pull themselves out of poverty. But if small entrepreneurs cannot gain affordable access to health care for themselves or their employees, that path out of poverty is blocked. Any hope of building genuine economic opportunity for struggling rural Americans through entrepreneurship must be accompanied by reforming the health care system in a way that benefits both small business owners and their employees.

It is vital that the unique health reform challenges of rural areas are carefully articulated to policymakers. Reform can either address these unique challenges and provide an opportunity for healthier people and more sustainable communities, or exacerbate the current situation.

The Center for Rural Affairs has always believed that guiding principles are fundamental to any public policy effort. Our work on health care is no exception. Any proposed health care solution or reform should be:

  • Universal, which includes a choice of a private insurance plan, including keeping the insurance you have if you like it, or a public insurance plan that guarantees affordable coverage.
  • Continuous.
  • Affordable to individuals and families.
  • Affordable and sustainable for society.
  • Enhance health and well-being.

We are writing a series of papers on unique and critical rural issues that must be addressed in the health care reform debate. The first, Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity in Rural America, highlighted current research and statistics on the health status of rural America, detailed the long-term consequences for rural people and communities, and outlined a set of solutions, policy and otherwise.

We are organizing rural people in Iowa, Montana, North Dakota and western Wisconsin, all crucial areas to the health care reform debate, to provide them opportunities to discuss with their policymakers health care and solutions that will benefit rural people and communities.

The health care reform debate promises to be long. Check our website at http://www.cfra.org/policy/health-care for the latest news, publications and opportunities to contribute. You can also stand up for health care reform that works for everyone, including rural people, family farmers and small business owners by signing our petition at http://www.cfra.org/policy/health-care/advocacy. We will share your signatures and your comments with the Obama administration.

Contact: Jon Bailey, jonb@cfra.org or 402.687.2103 x 1013 for more information.


Successes and Challenges in 2008 Farm Policy

In 2008, the Center continued to lead the fight for increased investment in rural development, beginning farmer and conservation programs, and stronger limits on farm payments going to the largest farms.

Ultimately, as we reported in our newsletter last June, we lost our battle over payment limitation reform, but we won new investment in rural development, beginning farmer and conservation programs.

For starters, we won funding for the Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program, a competitive grants program that supports technical assistance, business planning and loans for rural entrepreneurs. Efforts are underway to increase funding for the program from its current $4 million annually.

We also won $18 million in annual funding for the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, a competitive grants program that supports training, mentoring, marketing and other educational opportunities as well as linking retiring and beginning farmers.

Since the farm bill passed, we have continued to work with our allies to ensure the programs we did win are implemented properly. USDA is writing rules and regulations for these programs, and we are providing them with ideas on how to implement the programs in a way that works for rural America.

We presented our thoughts to USDA when they held listening sessions on the new programs. We believe the rural microentrepreneur program needs to direct some funding towards capacity building projects, particularly in rural areas and states that are currently underserved by existing rural small business development organizations. We also believe it is critical to launch this program quickly considering the state of the economy and the increased demand for rural small business services.

With the beginning farmer and rancher program, we are advocating that the funds are invested in projects that focus on strategies we know are working for beginning farmers such as high-value, niche markets where they can start small with limited debt and earn more per acre or animal.

We are also leading the charge to ensure the Value Added Producer Grants Program places a priority on projects from small and mid-size family farmers and ranchers. Their proposed rule fell short on this front, so we are working to turn that around.

Even payment limitation reform is back on the table with a new administration. In the coming months, USDA will define what constitutes an active farmer who is eligible for payments, which is currently too loosely defined (see the article Farm Payment Limitations inside USDA above.). The solution is simple. USDA must write a rule that requires a person to either work half time on the farm or else provide half the labor or half the management on the farm to qualify as a farmer.

We are also encouraging the new administration to use the Cooperative Conservation Partnerships Initiative to fund projects that bring conservation and rural community development objectives together as compatible goals.

We look forward to you sticking with us and helping us to ensure that these and other policy issues truly support family farming, rural communities and our natural environment.

For more information, contact Traci Bruckner, tracib@cfra.org or 402.687.2103 x 1016.

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