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Rural small businesses across Missouri receive free assistance from several organizations

An overhead photo of Carthage, Missouri
City of Carthage
An overhead photo of Carthage, Missouri

In this segment of KSMU's Sense of Community Series Entrepreneurship in the Rural Ozarks, learn about programs offered to small businesses to help them get started, grow and thrive.

This week on KSMU’s Sense of Community Series, we’re taking you to several small towns around the Ozarks for a look at rural entrepreneurship and how small businesses and small towns are doing.

As we talked with representatives of several organizations that help Missouri businesses to get started, to grow and eventually with succession planning – when a business owner is ready move on – the general consensus was that entrepreneurship is alive and well in rural parts of the state.

“We have a very strong entrepreneurial spirit in the Ozarks and southern Missouri and beyond – all of these entrepreneurs and great ideas,” said Lance Coffman, a regional small business consultant with the efactory at Missouri State University.

Patty Cantrell with New Growth, an organization that offers help to those wanting to start a business in areas away from the state’s largest cities — and that we told you about in the first segment of this month's Sense of Community Series — said entrepreneurship is strong in rural communities.

Kyle Wilkens, director of the United States Department of Agriculture Rural Development, agreed.

“We see entrepreneurship in rural Missouri as thriving in rural communities and also growing," he said. "And I think with the help of our programs, we can keep that up – specifically our business programs.”

Those programs and others like them can sometimes be the difference between a business’s success and failure since launching an idea can be a challenge – especially for those with no prior experience. And starting and growing a business can be even more of a challenge in rural areas with fewer resources and people.

That’s why there are programs offered by New Growth, USDA Rural Development, the efactory and other organizations to business owners in small towns throughout the state.

Missouri State University's efactory

Coffman said the efactory offers a wide variety of services to businesses of all types.

“For rural Missouri specifically, there’s a couple of different programs – one through the Missouri Small Business Development Center or Missouri SBDC here at Missouri State," he said. "We offer assistance, one-on-one counseling and training for 15 different counties.”

Coffman said the Missouri SBDC offers things like business planning, finding funding and succession planning – there’s something for every stage of a business.

“So, it doesn’t matter which type of business it is, we’re able to help and focus them and move them on to the next step,” he said.

A newer program offered by the efactory is Innovate SOMO, which covers all of southern Missouri.

“And it’s offering the same support services – the one-on-one consulting, a mentorship network, the advanced training," he said, "but, in addition to that, there’s some programs that are specifically designed for early stage businesses and specifically designed for growing businesses.”

For example, he said there’s a series of eight-week boot camps available for early stage businesses that are held virtually and in person in 47 counties.

USDA Rural Development

USDA Rural Development also offers help to businesses in Missouri’s small towns through a total of 46 programs – but Wilkens said many of their programs focus on the whole community.

“We’re trying to keep rural communities in Missouri stabilized and then keep them moving forward in the future…and the backbone of these communities are exactly the programs that we offer for help with loans and grants and that’s small businesses, small agribusinesses, community facilities. And that’s city hall, fire department, police cars, fire trucks, schools and then housing,” he said.

USDA Rural Development consists of the Rural Housing Service, which offers programs to build or improve housing and essential community facilities in rural areas; the Rural Utilities Service, which provides infrastructure or infrastructure improvements; and the Rural Business-Cooperative Service, which offers programs to help businesses grow as well as job training for people who live in rural areas.

That’s because a successful rural business needs to have a thriving town with residents to support it – not only as customers but also as employees.

The Carthage Water and Electric Plantreceived a $300,000 grant from USDA Rural Development this year to build utility infrastructure at a future industrial park that’s in the works there. Jeff Merideth, CEO of the Carthage Economic Development Corporation, said his organization will become the ultimate recipient of the funds through a zero percent loan. He says Carthage is poised for growth.

“We’ve had a lot of projects and opportunities recently come forth…from the existing business side of things, and I’m really eager to see, once we truly start marketing the community and this industrial site, what we can bring into Carthage to make it bigger and better,” he said.

Bringing in larger companies to a town helps small businesses since that can attract people to the area for jobs, he said.

Connecting Entrepreneurial Communities

Another program focused on boosting entrepreneurship in rural Missouri is the annual conference, Connecting Entrepreneurial Communities, hosted by the University of Missouri Extension. It’s designed for stakeholders, economic developers, businesses, local government, educators and nonprofits seeking to learn how to create a network that increases a community’s potential for entrepreneurship, according to MU Extension’s website. The conference was held last week in Benton Count -- a different site is chosen each year.

Annette Kindall, assistant Extension professor – Business & Innovation with MU Extension in Columbia, said this is not your typical conference. There’s one central location in a larger space, but all the breakout sessions are held in town businesses like coffee shops, restaurants and boutiques.

She said, not only do participants learn ideas they can take back to their own communities, they also help out businesses in the location where the conference is held “because conference attendees are sitting in this boutique where you’re having this breakout session and then it’s like, ‘oh, I’m just going to buy this or I’m just going to have a look at this’ or, you know, you’re getting coffee. So, we also encourage people to, you know, spend when they’re in the town.”

She said the conference is for anyone who wants to see their rural community thrive.

Michele Skalicky has worked at KSMU since the station occupied the old white house at National and Grand. She enjoys working on both the announcing side and in news and has been the recipient of statewide and national awards for news reporting. She likes to tell stories that make a difference. Michele enjoys outdoor activities, including hiking, camping and leisurely kayaking.