September 2004  Issue No. 22                    REAP HOME PAGE         A publication of the Center for Rural Affairs

Rural Enterprise Reporter

Meeting the Needs of Rural Entrepreneurs
Providing Access to Core Business Development Services for Rural Entrepreneurs

BY JEFF REYNOLDS, REAP PROGRAM DIRECTOR

Nebraska continues to have a very large population spread over 500 rural communities. In this landscape, self-employment plays a significant role. In rural Nebraska, the primary employment source is self-employment, and the dominant business type is microenterprise (5 or fewer employees). Access to core business development services is critical in rural Nebraska. The Rural Enterprise Assistance Project (REAP) is meeting this challenge.

REAP is a program of the Center for Rural Affairs. The Center, based in Lyons, Nebraska, is a private, non-profit, 501(c) 3 corporation founded in 1973. The Center is committed to building communities that stand for social justice, economic opportunity, and environmental stewardship.

REAP is a microenterprise development program of the Center that works with startup and existing small businesses in Nebraska on a statewide rural basis. REAP is the largest full-service microenterprise development program in Nebraska (rural or urban) and the only program that strives to serve all of the state’s rural areas.

Background: Built on 3 Assumptions
REAP was started by the Center for Rural Affairs in 1990 to meet the needs of self-employed persons in the rural Midwest. Center studies in the late 1980’s showed a high rate of self-employed in rural areas, but economic development strategies at the time were not designed to help this sector.

The REAP program was built on three key assumptions:

  1. Business or factory recruitment has limited results as an economic development strategy in a majority of small, rural communities. Communities with a solid small business sector in place seem to fare better with larger business recruitment.
  2. Local talent for small-scale enterprise and commitment to local community is widespread in rural areas and forms a unique base on which to build a development strategy based on self-employment and micro businesses.
  3. Small rural communities typically have a civic infrastructure willing to provide concrete assistance in adopting a development strategy that builds on the base of local self-employment.

REAP continues to evolve and currently offers small business management training, networking, technical assistance, small loans, and loan packaging services to businesses. REAP implements these services through a “dual delivery” system by offering both group and individual options for receiving services.

In addition, the REAP Women’s Business Center (WBC), the first such program in Nebraska, continues to excel in reaching rural women entrepreneurs. The REAP WBC service center entered its fourth year in 2004. REAP uses our business specialists located throughout the state to deliver the WBC services in conjunction with our other services to rural small businesses.

Meeting the Need – Achieving Scale
The growth of the REAP program has been extensive and unparalleled in the history of rural microenterprise development in the United States. REAP was one of eight featured programs in a national publication entitled Scaling up Microenterprise Services.

The publication, produced through the Aspen Institute’s Microenterprise Fund for Innovation, Effectiveness, Learning and Dissemination (FIELD), clearly shows how REAP has been able to effectively achieve scale through product and service development to maximize our effectiveness in serving rural Nebraska on a statewide basis.

Since 1990, the REAP program has provided development services to over 4,000 micro businesses. REAP has placed 274 peer loans with an average loan size of $1,706 and total lending of $467,423.

In 1998, REAP piloted the Direct Loan Program. In early 2000, it became a permanent part of the lending products offered to REAP participants. This new program, which makes individual loans in the $1,000-$25,000 range, provides loan capital for those who are currently falling between the cracks where no other lending capital is available. REAP has placed 139 direct loans totaling $1,948,408 and leveraging an additional $4,009,820 from other sources.

Hispanic Work Moving Forward
REAP continues the challenge of scaling up services by continued development of the current model and through the implementation of new initiatives. One new initiative is providing REAP services to the rural Nebraska Hispanic/Latino community.

REAP was approved for a USDA Rural Business Enterprise Grant (RBEG) to further work in the rural Hispanic entrepreneur area. The grant is for one year and officially began in January 2004. The funds are being used to establish a rural Hispanic business development project, the REAP Hispanic Rural Business Center without walls (RH-RBC).

The Hispanic Rural Business Center will initially be active in the Nebraska communities of South Sioux City, Schuyler, and Scotts Bluff. Ultimately it will provide key business development services to rural Nebraska Hispanic entrepreneurs on a Nebraska statewide rural basis.

Contact: Jeff Reynolds, REAP Program Director at 402.645.3296 or jefff@alltel.net for more information.

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Center for Rural Affairs -- Rural Enterprise Assistance Project
145 Main St.    PO Box 136    Lyons, Nebraska  68038
Voice:  (402) 687-2100       FAX:  (402) 687-2200      E-Mail: REAPinfo@cfra.org