In this newsletter, we are focusing on the challenges that rural businesses face. It seems like these challenges persist regardless of location: whether in a village in Africa or in a small town in New York. Managing a business is challenging and rurality can add additional layers of complication.
Key findings in a recent Small Business Majority reflect much of the challenges we are seeing with our rural business partners – “Small businesses play a key role in all facets of life within rural communities. They are civically active and in tune with the strengths and weaknesses of their communities.” However, “while they see many benefits to operating in their local communities, they face unique barriers”. These include limited market access, supply chain infrastructure and financing options. Finding and retaining a talented workforce is a significant challenge, as are access to broadband, healthcare and childcare providers and other goods and services.
According to the U.S. Census, 17 percent of businesses operate in rural communities. Rural businesses create lifelines for the community and neighboring towns and cities. Data from a Small Business Credit Survey shows that rural businesses are smaller and grow more slowly but are also likely to be more profitable than their urban counterparts and have longer survival rates (Prakash, 2018). At first glance, this is impressive considering challenges like geographic isolation, limited hiring pools, barriers to capital and lack of service providers in rural areas. Startup costs and competition are usually lower than in urban areas, as are opportunity costs, so rural businesses are more likely to be able to weather a downturn than their urban counterparts. However, rural businesses are also likely to be much more risk averse, both in starting-up and in ongoing strategy. So, rural businesses may survive longer than their urban counterparts because they are more conservative and less likely to take risks.
As someone leading an organization in a rural community, I have seen both the benefits and challenges of our location. We know how cooperation between organizations, supporting local entrepreneurs and investing in rural infrastructure can make a difference between success and failure. Despite the challenges, rural communities create a vibrancy and sense of culture that rivals urban areas.
We are, therefore, excited to have recently been awarded a grant from USDA to support up to 75 small businesses in rural upstate New York. We hope that the lessons we have learnt in growing the Carey Institute for Global Good these last five years can be shared and will benefit many other rural communities.
Gareth Crawford, President & CEO