How Small Towns Can Grow Small Businesses
In the Enterprise Facilitation system, a staff facilitator gives confidential, free mentoring to anyone interested in starting their own business; a board of local business leaders also meets monthly to offer their own assistance, whether it's an introduction to a supplier or advice on getting financing.
The Enterprise Facilitation model can deliver impressive results. Between 2003 and 2011, the Northeast Kansas Enterprise Facilitation group helped 52 businesses get off the ground and helped in the expansion of 17 more. The Southeast Enterprise Facilitation Project in South Dakota has helped 56 businesses open since it began in 2003. (Encouragingly enough, the number of businesses has grown each year, despite the economic circumstances.)
The nonprofit Center for Rural Affairs, based in Nebraska, has been at the forefront of rural economic development issues. Although much of its work has been focused on farming, the center's staff has also advocates for more microlending to rural entrepreneurs and has lobbied for changes in various Congressional farm bills to help fund business-related projects. One of its programs, the Rural Enterprise Assistance Project provides advice, management training and microloans to Nebraska-based businesses with five or fewer employees.
Initiatives that focus on the economic development of a whole town or county can also be an important way to drive rural entrepreneurship. Such programs have been especially successful in the tourism sector. While a small town may not be able to attract visitors to its single covered bridge, a regional collaboration that promotes a covered-bridge driving tour can draw visitors from other states. Those visitors spend money on meals, bed-and-breakfasts and souvenirs, supporting businesses that couldn't turn a profit if they were based solely on their local customer base.
People who choose to live in the country may value the wide-open vistas and uncrowded roads. But they also know the value of community. Local support and collaboration is small-town America's secret weapon when it comes to business creation. Now it's time to get the word out that entrepreneurship can thrive beyond the country's big urban centers.