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Rural Development Funded Project

Rural Entrepreneurship and Business Development Initiative 

Rural Development

The Rural Entrepreneurship and Business Development Initiative was conceived in 2007 with funding from USDA/Rural Development. Its goal is to promote rural development through cooperatives, small businesses and rural entrepreneurship; provide outreach and technical assistance, advisory services, counseling, dissemination of technical information, training; and encourage and assist underserved rural residents and communities to become entrepreneurial and self-reliant. The Initiative also motivates future entrepreneurs and assists to create businesses in rural Alabama and in communities with the most or greatest economic need. Finally, the Initiative promotes a dynamic business environment in rural Alabama, targeting underserved communities. 

The functioning and operation of the Initiative blends unique approaches to outreach, develops management information for entrepreneurs and rural businesses, and identifies key strategies for dealing with business problems, enhancing profitability and promoting sustainable economic and community development. While the project’s goal is to cover the entire state of Alabama, the Initiative currently covers only eight underserved communities in Butler, Franklin, Greene, Hale, Madison, Marengo, Perry and Sumter counties. As evidenced by the increased participation, the program has been well received in all the targeted communities. The Initiative works closely with the Small Business Administration (SBA), Chamber of Commerce, and USDA/Rural Development State Office in Montgomery, Alabama. The current project is conceived to continue to address many of the chronic problems faced by Alabama’s rural entrepreneurs and businesses. The four specific objectives currently being pursued are to: 

  1. develop/disseminate educational materials and resources on energy and renewable energy sources, conduct farm and business Energy Audits and convene workshops on production and use of biodiesel and alternative energy sources as a means of coping with escalating energy costs by entrepreneurs and rural businesses;

  2. continue to maintain an effective startup rural entrepreneurial outreach and development program which provides technical assistance and explicitly targets rural youths and entrepreneurs to enhance awareness of and promote USDA/Rural Development programs in areas of greatest economic need;

  3. develop modules and provide specialized training and technical assistance in financial management, enterprise budgets and budgeting, business planning, estate planning, and retirement security for Alabama’s small businesses and agribusinesses; and

  4. continue to deliver targeted entrepreneurial outreach training and provide technical assistance to rural businesses, agribusinesses, cooperatives and producers to improve their profitability and competitiveness by ensuring their access to entrepreneurship and management information. 

Figure 1

The educational and outreach training usually prepares entrepreneurs to be able to identify the various business management tools available, know where to obtain them, understand how each tool operates, and be able to select one that best meets their individual need in order to enhance and sustain business profitability and promote community development. The delivery of outreach training is achieved through workshops, seminars, group meetings, listening sessions, and one-on-one interaction. Because of the complexity of the proposed educational program, a brief exposure to entrepreneurial outreach training could leave learners unprepared or misinformed. It is important, therefore, that the training occurs repeatedly and over time with the same learners. Entrepreneurs must have sufficient understanding of the issues before they can ultimately make reliable business decisions. The goal is to conduct training and disseminate business information to improve entrepreneurial skills and stimulate business and economic development in selected underserved communities in Alabama (see above Figure 1). A number of partners, including USDA/Rural Development, ACES, NCAT, ASAN and others, have agreed to assist in this outreach initiative.