LANSING-The cozy community of 160 was recently among just a handful of the state’s rural towns selected to take part in an innovative new business kick-starter program.
That news comes from the North Carolina Rural Center – a nonprofit that helps the state’s 80 rural counties grow businesses and their communities – which said this week it’s launching an intensive, two-and-a-half year long business development program in Lansing as part of its STEP to Small Business program.
The program’s goal? To build a local culture that can support and nurture Lansing’s current and future small businesses and entrepreneurs. Here’s what you need to know.
Eight small towns
Including Lansing were asked to take part in the new program. The other seven are Elkin, Marion, Star, Siler City, Plymouth, Scotland Neck, Elizabethtown.
Cream of the crop
All eight were selected because of their prior experiences with the Rural Center’s Small Town Economic Prosperity, or STEP, initiative which was first launched in 2006. That program provided 67 separate communities across the state with coaching and leadership training, along with help to outline their economic development strategy, according to Chilton Rodgers, director of community engagement for the NC Rural Center. “These eight towns selected were some of the strongest towns to come out of that STEP process,” Rogers said.
STEP on steroids
Rogers said the program is designed to take the work completed during the initial STEP program and expand on it by providing a program that includes community coaching, technical assistance and leadership training for entrepreneurs and small businesses. “The criteria was to look at the towns that had well developed business strategies from their original STEP plans,” Rogers said. “What we’ve done with this program is to take that business development plan, really flesh it out and have it concentrate on promoting entrepreneurship and support existing businesses in towns like Lansing.”
$500,000 in grant funding
That’s how much money, in total, that the NC Rural Center will have available to fund the program throughout the eight towns, including Lansing. The Center received $250,000 in grant funding from the United States Department of Agriculture and kicked in $250,000 of it own private dollars to get the effort off the ground.
A proven model
The nuts and bolts of the program will be based on models developed by the nonprofit Center for Rural Entrepreneurship, which is based in Lincoln, NE. “We do a lot of analysis of the regional economy, and we’re paying close attention to the entrepreneurial assets these communities already have in place,” Rogers said. “Where are the opportunities, and where are the gaps, because that’s where we’re going to be able to make the most impact.”
A culture shift
Rogers said the program’s ultimate goal is to create community business leaders, and support networks to help them, who will have positive impacts on Lansing long after the STEP to Small Business program officially ends. “You have to create an environment that is conducive to business development,” Rogers said. “Your zoning and business ordinances have to be favorable, you’ve got to have space that meets the needs of small businesses and you’ve got to have mentors and business support that can create networks that can teach people things that will work in Lansing.”
$100,000 in micro-loans
That’s how much money will be available for small businesses once the program is underway. The very nature of small business startup funding – many times ventures are unproven or have short track records – means it’s harder for new businesses to secure capital from conventional methods like banks. The Rural Center’s micro-loan pool is meant to fill that gap in Lansing, Rogers said. “This will be a pool that is specially designated for each of these towns,” Rogers said. “It’ll be administered by the Rural Center, but advisory committees in each of the towns will make local decisions about which candidates they’ll support.”
New Year, New Lansing
Rogers said the program will begin in earnest in January. “We’ll be in each town once per month for six to nine months starting in January,” Rogers said. “There’s intensive coaching at each step of the way, and we’re hoping to make a big difference in these communities.”
Reach Adam Orr at 336-489-3058 or Twitter.com/AdamROrr.