At the Rural Voice town hall discussion of rural entrepreneurship in central Minnesota on Tuesday, Sept. 20, conventional wisdom was challenged. By the time MPR’s Kerri Miller powered down her microphone and sweets were passed around, the optimism in the Krewe Restaurant in St. Joseph was palpable.
The social temperature-takers got it wrong. The ubiquitous “they” said that rural America, including rural Minnesota, was dying a slow death. Yet people are no longer relocating to the Twin Cities at the same rate as even 10 years ago. While the Metropolitan Council contradicted Census numbers with their own in May, the proof was in Tuesday night’s turnout.
Rural entrepreneurs of every kind shared, including those who had relocated from urban areas. Experienced business people shared the expensive lessons they learned in pursuit of their vision or idea. A few of them offered their time as mentors to some of the “newbies” in the room.
There were a number of women well known to the St. Joseph business community, and a few who were newer; creative entrepreneurs, farm-owners and growers, cooperative entrepreneurs, and chefs bent on changing the world.
What makes rural entrepreneurship so appealing in central Minnesota is the number of organizations poised to support entrepreneurs with practical, impactful programs. Representatives from The Initiative Foundation of Central Minn., the Greater St. Cloud Development Corp., the Small Business Development Corp., Compeer and ILT Academy were present at the event.
Each time someone shared a dilemma or a struggle that plagued them, support was offered. Some things appeared contradictory on their surface: a non-profit organization that provides gap financing and micro loans? Initiative Foundation says, “We’re built for this,” a financial officer who proffers to review business plans prior to loan applications? The very same was offered by an employee of Compeer.
In its simplest form, rural entrepreneurship seems to be about the numbers. In more populated areas like Minneapolis, entrepreneurs far outstrip community resources, and accessing mentorship or networking relationships can be fraught with challenges.
Not that rural entrepreneurs have no barriers. Access to broadband in rural areas remains difficult, but it is expanding. Formal bank financing continues to be a roadblock for many, but crowd funding and other social media can be leveraged in its absence.
The suggestions were coming as fast as the stories were escaping people’s lips, and they boiled down to this: rural entrepreneurship is the future. And the future is here.