A partnership of two federal agencies that aims to help rural businesses develop and grow is coming to Alabama with the Rural Strong program. The first of eight meetings planned to provide resources to Baldwin County and businesses around the state was April 25 at Bay Minette City Hall.
“They had Rural Strong last year in Georgia, and Alabama is kind of following that program,” said Yolanda Johnson, small business advisor with the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) in Coastal Alabama. “In Florida, they are having expos.”
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) are involved. The April 25 meeting, and seven others planned for around the state later this year, help rural businesses find capital for new ventures or improve ones already operating.
“USDA and SBA’s Rural Strong program is designed to increase awareness of capital availability in rural areas for strengthening both business and agriculture,” Johnson said. “This mission is aligned with that of the Alabama SBDC and we are excited to be a part of this state-wide initiative which kicks off here in Baldwin County.”
Presenters included representatives from the USDA, SBA, SBDC and the South Alabama Regional Planning Commission. They covered topics such as the Revolving Loan Fund, Community Development Financial Institutions Fund, hub zones, opportunity zones and energy.
“This workshop will add valuable information for lenders and small business owners on access to capital available to them as well as other helpful programs from these two agencies and others,” said Ashley Jones Davis, executive director of the North Baldwin Chamber of Commerce. “Educating our business community about the benefits of available funding and other programs will only encourage and stimulate future economic growth in our area.”
A release about the workshop said the partnership between the two agencies was historic.
“Access to capital through these two federal agencies is an important part of growing investment and jobs in rural Alabama counties,” Thomas Todt, the SBA district director, said. “In the months ahead, we intend to jointly hold several Rural Strong workshops around rural Alabama to publicize and promote a new awareness of these valuable programs.”
The USDA office in Bay Minette serves the counties of Baldwin, Clarke, Conecuh, Escambia, Mobile, Monroe and Washington in South Alabama.
“Most of all, informing rural small businesses and lenders of the major benefits of these two federal programs will stimulate investment in our state’s rural areas,” Alabama USDA Director Chris Beeker said. “USDA rural lending has a proven track record of support for farm and rural investment. Now we want both the USDA’s loan programs and the SBA’s small business loans to create new opportunities for rural entrepreneurs and business owners.”
Johnson said the federal help is appreciated by the state agency, which works to promote business expansion.
“The development of rural areas of our state is crucial to the viability and sustainability of the state’s economy,” Johnson said. “The Alabama SBDC network is resolved to grow Alabama’s economy one business at a time.”
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