Rural Enterprise Reporter
Overcoming Rural Entrepreneurial Challenges
Entrepreneurs in rural areas are
finding innovative ways to start a business. Solid technical
assistance is critical to their success.
BY GLENNIS MCCLURE, REAP
WOMEN’S BUSINESS CENTER DIRECTOR & JEFF REYNOLDS, REAP PROGRAM
The rural economy seems to be a constant challenge for those
who desire to live and work in or near rural communities. The
national economic downturn, poor ag commodity prices, and
drought have contributed to the uncertain climate. Yet
brainstorming for viable, good, sustainable business ideas is
The Rural Enterprise Assistance Project (REAP), a program of the
Center for Rural Affairs, is a full-service statewide
microenterprise program that works in the midst of the
challenges in rural Nebraska.
REAP staff receive regular inquiries from men and women who are
looking to improve their lives, either by starting or enhancing
a business. Many wonder what others are doing. What types of
businesses are working in rural Nebraska and across the nation?
Filling a Market Niche or Need
Since REAP and our affiliated local associations are
member-based organizations that encourage networking and local
support with on-going education and technical assistance to
businesses, it’s a natural that we can often answer such
questions. REAP staff have an opportunity to work with many
diverse businesses trying to fill a niche or need in their
local, or sometimes regional or global market.
While we regularly field startup assistance requests for
businesses like auto repair, computer sales, day care, and
restaurants; REAP has worked closely with unique businesses as
well. Examples include a paintball recreational facility on a
farm and a corn grower who packages a product to sell especially
for wildlife food.
Creativity, innovation, plus good planning are keys to
successful entrepreneurship. Addressing uniqueness and niche
marketing is often the difference in the fate of rural
The Need for Rural Self-Employment
Rural Nebraska has experienced long-term poverty, population
decline, and job deterioration. The Center’s recent study, Swept
Away: Chronic Hardship and Fresh Promise on the Rural Great
Plains, sets out the current economic situation and makes
recommendations for changes in policy to improve the economy of
this area. States included in the 2003 study are Nebraska,
Kansas, North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, and Iowa.
Important findings center on the entrepreneurial character of
this region. In rural farm counties, 42 percent of jobs are
proprietorships compared to only 14 percent in metropolitan
counties. Non-farm microenterprise has been the key to job
growth in Nebraska farm and ranch counties. Nearly 70 percent of
their job growth was from non-farm self-employment.
Self-employment holds promise for those who live in rural areas.
Microbusinesses, those with five or fewer employees, account for
25 percent of jobs in Nebraska compared to 13 percent for the
country. The role of self-employment in farm-based communities
is even greater. Over 40 percent of all working people are
Clearly, self-employment is critical to the survival of rural
areas. Continued innovation and creative startup of small
businesses will be a key to this effort.
Alternative Business Ventures for
Several recent REAP client businesses have been involved in ag
alternative businesses using existing agricultural land or
livestock facilities. We’ve connected with several businesses
venturing into the specialty or organic meat market – raising
chickens on a pasture or finishing hogs or cattle on
chemical-free rations and then marketing direct to consumers or
Using part of farm land or pasture for a recreation or
tourism-related business has also grown in popularity.
Converting a farmhouse to a guest house for urban visitors on a
horse ranch or providing free space and natural obstacles in a
paintball recreational facility on a farm are examples of using
available resources in a business.
Proximity to customers in a nearby larger community can make the
difference in success for a rural business. Often the isolation
of rural entrepreneurs from larger markets makes marketing a
much bigger challenge. Sometimes REAP is called on to focus its
technical assistance on access to markets.
Communities realizing the importance of entrepreneurship are
becoming proactive in seeking out potential business owners to
start new businesses to fill a need in their area or finding new
owners to take over when a long-time business owner is ready to
REAP systematically works with businesses across rural Nebraska
and emphasizes member networking locally and regionally so new
and improved business ideas stay free flowing and helpful. We
strive to deliver on-going educational programs across the state
through our Women’s Business Center services. We also provide
assistance in business planning and micro loans.
Making a connection with a microenterprise technical assistance
provider like REAP can be a difference maker for a business
facing today’s challenges.
Contact: Jeff Reynolds,
REAP Program Director at 402.645.3296 or
firstname.lastname@example.org or Glennis McClure, REAP WBC
Director at 402.645.3296 or
email@example.com for more information.