The Importance of Demonstrating the Impacts of Rural Business Programs

By Bruce Nuzum, 2018 NREDA President

I am sure you know by now that Trump's proposed Federal budget for 2019 has once again drastically cut or zeroed out most, if not all, of the business assistance programs that we rely on in rural America - including funding for everything from the Small Business Administration (SBA) to USDA Rural Development. While coverage in the press has indicated that neither Republicans or Democrats are in agreement with the assumptions in the budget or the proposed cuts to rural programs, the Trump administration continues to incorrectly assert that rural business programs do not provide an adequate return when compared to the cost to the programs.

NREDA members know that it takes a variety of financial tools to facilitate the projects that bring jobs and private investment to our rural areas. Just like you, I have seen first-hand the impacts of programs like USDA RD's Rural Economic Development Loan and Grant (REDL&G) and Business & Industry Guarantee programs as well as SBA's 504 and 7a Guarantee, just to name a few. But here's the point: it is not enough for us to know the positive impacts of these programs. If we as rural economic developers believe in the importance of these programs and the return they provide to rural America, we must tell the story about the results they accomplish in our rural communities. Otherwise, the only public message is the one with the incorrect assertions.

As many of you know, I spend a large portion of my day working with USDA RD's REDL&G program and helping IADG's members administer the revolving loan funds (RLFs) which the program creates. As part of that, we track and tabulate the impacts the REDL&G program has in Iowa - both the original awards and the on-going impacts of the RLFs we administer. The historic returns are impressive in terms of both job creation and private investment leverage. For example, last year alone Iowa's RLFs leveraged $20 of private investment for every $1 that we loaned. I expect that your efforts and the rural business programs that you utilize have provided equally impressive results in your region and you would like that to continue. So if you are not already doing so, I encourage you to tabulate those outcomes and share your stories with Legislators and the public at large regarding the importance of rural business programs, the economic benefits and return they provide as well as the need for continued funding for rural America.