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Rural business gets help

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By Jennifer Whytock

Many rural North Carolinians find it difficult to set up small businesses without enough training, money or access to resources, but a new $2.9 million program aims to help.

The program, named the Institute for Rural Entrepreneurship, will offer grants, loans, education, training and resource directories to aspiring small-business entrepreneurs.

The North Carolina Rural Economic Center in Raleigh will run the program, and has raised $2.3 million of the $2.9 million needed for the first year.

Over 138,000 rural North Carolinians were unemployed in August, and nearly 2 of every 3 people laid-off from textile, apparel and furniture jobs in the last three years are from rural counties.

One goal of the program, which begins in November, is to help laid-off manufacturing workers develop their own small businesses.

The program will identify candidates from 28 rural counties, send them to specialized training at one of 13 community colleges and then, if they qualify, offer them a business loan.

“About 25 percent of workers say. ‘I have a talent or interest or skill I would like to develop, and I want to start a business, not go into another factory’, but the structure is not there for them,” says Mark Sorrells, a small business owner and advocate who serves as vice president of programs at the Golden Leaf Foundation in Rocky Mount.

The N.C. Department of Commerce gave $100,000 to the new institute’s training program, and the Rural Center will provide $1 million in loans.

Another goal of the institute is to compile a 100-county directory of available education and training programs for entrepreneurs.

It also will develop a web site and telephone help line to connect entrepreneurs with business-resource providers that offer financial and technical assistance.

The institute hopes to stimulate innovation in agriculture by providing $100,000 in grants and creating a $160,000 initiative to develop a new generation of agriculture cooperatives.

During the past year, the Rural Center analyzed business and economic data and talked with small-business owners and business-development specialists.

Small-business owners cited four main problems they faced setting up and running a rural business, including a sense of isolation, lack of access to money, difficulties finding resources and support services, and a need for more training and education programs.

The institute, which will begin in stages from November through next year, aims to tackle these problems and help jump-start the rural economy.

 “Many entrepreneurs said, ‘Give us access to resources and we’ll create the businesses’”, says Debra Markley, co-director of the Center for Rural Entrepreneurship in Chapel Hill. “They didn’t want handouts and weren’t whining.”

Funding for the institute has come from the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, state Commerce Department, Tobacco Trust Fund Commission, Agricultural Advancement Consortium, Farm Bureau Legal Foundation and Rural Center.

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