Blog for Rural America

The Center for Rural Affairs, a private, non-profit organization, is working to strengthen small businesses, family farms and ranches, and rural communities. Permission to reprint items from this web log is hereby granted, on the condition that clear credit is given to the original source of the material. If the blog provides information for a story, please let us know by sending an email to johnc@cfra.org.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

REAP: Fifteen Years of Positive Growth

- from the desks of Jeff Reynolds, jeffr@alltel.net, and Glennis McClure, reapwbc@diodecom.net, REAP Program Co-Directors

REAP: Fifteen Years of Positive Growth

Providing Access to Core Business Development Services for Rural Entrepreneurs

The Rural Enterprise Assistance Project (REAP) is celebrating its 15th anniversary this year. REAP has grown significantly and has steadily evolved since our beginning in 1990.

Background
REAP was started by the Center for Rural Affairs (Center) in 1990 to meet the needs of self-employed persons in the rural Midwest. Center studies in the late 1980’s showed a high rate of self-employed in rural areas, but economic development strategies at the time were not designed to help this sector.

The Center, based in Lyons, Nebraska, is a private, non-profit, 501(c)3 corporation founded in 1973. The Center is committed to building communities that stand for social justice, economic opportunity, and environmental stewardship.

The largest full-service microenterprise development program in Nebraska, REAP serves the state’s rural areas and is one of the largest rural-only micro business programs in the United States. In addition, the REAP Women’s Business Center (WBC), the first such program in Nebraska, continues to excel in reaching rural women entrepreneurs.

REAP offers small business management training, networking, one-on-one technical assistance, and small loans to startup and existing small businesses in Nebraska on a statewide rural basis. REAP implements these services through a “dual delivery” system by offering both association or roundtable and individual options for receiving services.

Challenges – Barriers
Achieving scale in Nebraska on a statewide-rural basis has many challenges and barriers. Geography will always be a barrier. We have been able to deal with this through the placement of staff in field offices across the state. Still, as we increase reach in served counties and enter those that are not yet served, the geographic barrier can create challenges.

Scaling-up can also lead to staff barriers. It has been necessary to revise the REAP delivery model to make it possible for existing staff to reach new areas of the state and yet avoid burnout.

A third barrier is funding. As private foundations continue to move away from funding program delivery, it must be replaced by other sources. To achieve growth, REAP and the Center for Rural Affairs led an effort to secure sustainable public support for microenterprise development.

State public support has been a key-funding source for microenterprise programs in Nebraska. Keeping this funding stream and other key Federal funding sources like the SBA Microloan and Women’s Business Center Programs viable will be crucial for future survival.

Evolution of the Program
REAP services were delivered exclusively by locally formed peer groups from 1990-1999. Through the Peer-Group model, REAP provided development services to over 4,000 micro businesses. Historically 277 peer loans have been placed with an average loan size of $1,715 and total lending of $474,923.

In 1999 we expanded the lending portfolio to provide direct loans to individuals. Peer borrower businesses often grew beyond REAP lending limits, but were not eligible for loans at the local bank. And in areas where there were no REAP associations, individuals that could not access a loan at the bank did not have access to lending capital.

In early 2000, the Direct Loan Program became a permanent part of the lending products offered to REAP member businesses. This REAP loan product, which makes individual loans in the $1,000-$25,000 range, provides loan capital for those who are currently falling between the cracks where no other lending capital is available. We have made 170 direct loans totaling $2,295,258 and leveraging an additional $5,516,055 from other sources.

In 2002, we officially launched the REAP Individual Program to serve micro business owners that do not have access to a REAP association. In 2003, we developed and launched an extensive website designed for startup and existing small businesses in Nebraska.

In 2004, we launched a comprehensive online REAP Member Directory and began a REAP Hispanic Rural Business Center pilot. In 2005, we introduced the REAP Rural Business Roundtable format. In 2006, we will continue the challenge of scaling up our services by continued development of our current model and through the implementation of new initiatives.

Future Directions
Our new initiatives give an indication of our future. We will continue to reach out to underserved rural entrepreneurs while delivering more “virtual” business development services. Last month REAP launched an online lending system which allows REAP members
to apply for loans via the internet -- http://www.cfra.org/reap/rapidloan_entry.htm

Since beginning in 1990, the growth and evolution of REAP has been steady, aggressive, and extensive. REAP is proud to be a leader in rural microenterprise development both on a state and national basis and is poised to achieve maximum scale in Nebraska on a statewide rural basis.

Although the services and products have changed and evolved, the quality remains, as does the REAP mission of “strengthening rural communities through small, self-employed business development.”

REAP is in the business of “meeting the needs of rural entrepreneurs” and will continue to strive for excellence in this area during the next 15 years.

for more information post a question or comment here or contact John Crabtree, johnc@cfra.org

Center for Rural Affairs
Values. Worth. Action.

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