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Congress urged to support Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Act

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Deborah Van Fleet

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(Nebraska News Connection) Dozens of Microenterprise Development Organizations from 28 states, including Nebraska's Center for Rural Affairs, have signed a letter urging Congress to support the Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Act.

Kalee Olson, senior policy associate at the center, said the U.S. Department of Agriculture program has been included in the Farm Bill since 2008. She pointed out the program was designed to help rural entrepreneurs and small businesses, many of whom might otherwise struggle to obtain loans and technical assistance. 

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"It ends up being a lot of those rural Main Street-type businesses that were maybe more common in our rural communities 10, 20 years ago," Olson explained. "We're just hopeful that this program can bring some of those businesses back."

Olson pointed out program loans are different from other small-business loans. They are available only to sole proprietors or small businesses with 10 or fewer employees, and only for projects in rural communities. Revisions in the reauthorization bill include raising the loan cap from $50,000 to $75,000 and removing the restriction against using the money for renovations. Sen. Pete Ricketts, R-Neb., sponsored the bill.

Olson emphasized they know of "a good number of entrepreneurs" interested in moving back into the state's small-town storefronts.

"Our hope is that if we can lift that prohibition on renovations," Olson stressed. "We can get entrepreneurs and small businesses back in brick-and-mortar locations that have maybe been empty for the last few years."

Olson added the program also enables the center and other Microenterprise Development Organizations to provide technical assistance to qualifying entrepreneurs and small businesses.

"That might be support in applying for the actual loan, or it might be something related to marketing training, or business planning and budget development," Olson outlined.