Microenterprises, like micro-organisms, support new growth
By Patty Cantrell
Here’s a chicken-and-egg quandary for rural places wondering how to bring life back to small towns.
Which comes first? The jobs that will support rural living? Or the businesses that make rural living possible and enjoyable?
Here at New Growth we are working on the small business side of this question. We’re particularly focused on very small businesses, or microenterprises. These sole proprietors, and businesses with fewer than 10 employees, are not only predominant in rural places; in fact, they make up 75 percent of all U.S. businesses. Yet they get much less attention than larger businesses, in part because they employ only 10 percent of all workers.
New Growth focuses on microenterprises not solely for the jobs they create but also for the economic dynamism they create; the much-needed goods, services, relationships and investments they provide, and stimulate, in rural places. From flower shops to the mechanics garage and the plumber … each one is an asset from which new growth can emerge if we tend to the power of microenterprises, like micro-organisms in soil, to support new life.
Lucky Ducky Cleaning in rural Nevada, MO, is a case in point. Stacey and Larry Poe started the business in 2021 after Stacey lost her minimum-wage job with a commercial cleaning company that shut down during the Covid-19 pandemic. Lucky Ducky Cleaning now contracts with 10 state office buildings in the region and employs nine workers.
Like many microenterprises, Lucky Ducky Cleaning was too new, too small, and too credit risky for conventional financing from a bank. Alternative microenterprise financing through New Growth made the difference with just $5,000 in upfront working capital.
“New Growth’s loan played a major role,” she said. “We had to go two months without being paid. It also helped us buy used equipment we needed.”
The economic value of this new business includes the many forms of rural “wealth” created in the process; how the region is better off and better situated for new opportunity because of it. Community and economic wealth is measured in different types of “capital” that we can lose, maintain, or accrue. The more of these “capitals” we maintain and accrue, the more options and opportunities our rural communities can seize.
Stacey and husband Larry Poe offer much-needed skill and will, or “human capital,” which their community could have lost to unemployment or underemployment if microenterprise financing had not been available. They are bringing more human capital online, and increasing workforce participation, by hiring people unable to get jobs elsewhere.
In addition, their commercial cleaning business spends money locally. It is also helping to ensure large office buildings can get the service they require in rural places, which can be a factor in continued or new office and industrial investment. Critical social capital also grows with this business, for example, in current invitations to speak to local civic clubs where they can share their story, build their network, and offer inspiration.
Five Year Mark
Building upon, and building up, rural assets is what New Growth set out to do five years ago when parent organization West Central Missouri Community Action Agency organized and launched it as an affiliate community development corporation. New Growth’s mission is to build local ownership and lasting livelihoods from deep rural roots. We work with local communities and regional partners to explore opportunities and develop new resources for capitalizing on rural assets and advancing those opportunities.
During the pandemic, we sharpened our focus on microenterprise development and financing. Since 2021, we’ve made more than 50 microenterprise and credit building loans and helped more than 400 individual small businesses advance with training and one-on-one assistance.
- Our financing arm, New Growth Capital offers loans $500 to $50,000 to those unable to find financing elsewhere. It is now an approved SBA microlending intermediary and pending Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI).
- We offer business development support in 15 rural counties through the SBA-designated New Growth Women’s Business Center.
- Our regional Food Systems Program with parent organization West Central provides a range of assistance, from production to marketing, that rural food and agriculture entrepreneurs need to grow with demand for local and regional products.
- New Growth Transit LLC is a social enterprise operated by West Central addressing the need for rides in our rural region; rides for health care, shopping, jobs, and more.
- Our partners in the START HERE Business Acceleration Network work as a team to make sure rural entrepreneurs have the right resource at the right time.
Chicken or Egg
Building up resources for, and attention to, rural entrepreneurship is a key part of rural survival and success. Research supports this assertion, including recent analysis by University of Missouri Extension researchers in “The Future of Work in Missouri: Rural-Urban Differences in Entrepreneurship.”
“The ‘entrepreneurial’ businesses in rural Missouri offer communities the goods and services often associated with increases in rural quality-of-life (e.g., café, grocery store, farmers’ market) and help maintain a vibrant sense of place in rural communities,” they write. “It is this sense of place that is essential to retain other businesses in rural communities, a phenomenon known as place-making.”
Let’s see what we can do on the small business side about bringing life back to our rural places; about making rural living more possible and enjoyable with the goods, services, and relationships that put “home” in hometown.
Patty Cantrell is New Growth’s Director of Outreach and Development. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 660-476-2185 ext. 6500.