Friday, May 25, 2018

Rural entrepreneurship development needs more funds, attention, writes Center for Rural Entrepreneurship founder

Don Macke
Recently, Dell Gines of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City asked why entrepreneurship isn't a more mainstream development strategy in America. The answer is complicated, writes Don Macke, the co-founder of the Center for Rural Entrepreneurship and director of Entrepreneurial Communities at the CRE.

In the 1990s Macke was the executive director of the Nebraska Rural Development Commission and saw how Nebraska, like many other states, tried to lure businesses with tax breaks. But other factors ultimately drove companies' decision to come to Nebraska. But most economic development funding still tends to go toward attracting businesses, not helping entrepreneurs, Macke writes.

"Even where there are commitments to entrepreneurship-led development, we find folks struggling with how to proceed," Macke writes. "In most cases they are attracted to higher-profile solutions focused on specific ecosystem elements – more capital, incubators, accelerators, workshops and the like. We continue to struggle to get communities to understand the entrepreneurial talent they have, to take the time to identify what these entrepreneurs need and to focus their efforts on networking entrepreneurs to relevant solutions whatever they might be."

And many communities, especially the more rural ones, lack the capacity to engage in basic entrepreneurship development work, Macke writes. A support system for such communities would help, but few organizations exist that can build it. State development agencies focus most of their resources on attraction and business retention. Regional developmental organizations are often project- and grant-management focused. Development financial institutions focus on deploying capital but not so much technical assistance or building community capacity. And though there are many organizations that support entrepreneurs, rural entrepreneurs may not know about them. 

"Fortunately," Macke writes, "there are a growing number of promising initiatives and organizations making good progress using entrepreneurship as a leading economic development strategy."

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