Washington, D.C.— Yesterday, the House Small Business Subcommittee on Rural Development, Agriculture, Trade, and Entrepreneurship, led by Chairwoman Abby Finkenauer (D-IA), held a virtual hearing exploring policies to boost entrepreneurship in rural communities to help expedite their economic recovery.
“Due to the downturn in our economy, 7.5 million small businesses are now at risk of closure, and many of them are in our rural areas. What’s especially frustrating is that we have spent nearly a decade recovering from the Great Recession only to have our rural economies take another devastating hit,” said Chairwoman Finkenauer. “That’s why we wanted to hold this hearing; to hear directly from America’s rural small business owners about what they need to move forward and what the pandemic has meant for their businesses.”
The recent unprecedented series of natural disasters combined with the COVID-19 pandemic has inflicted harm on rural economies and communities. Small businesses have closed in mass, including many firms located on rural main streets creating the potential for permanent damage to local economies. This economic downturn comes just three years after rural businesses recovered from the Great Recession; non-rural businesses recovered in 2011.
Despite these challenges, economic shocks can produce new businesses that lead to job creation and future growth. The hearing allowed Members to examine policies that invest in rural small business development and help facilitate recovery. Small business owners testified on their experience during recent crises and how policies investing in rural broadband, ensuring access to capital, and promoting entrepreneurial development initiatives could help their businesses and communities moving forward.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed a longstanding fear that childcare is one of our most critical institutions,” said Chad Nath, Executive Director LINK Grinnell Inc. in Grinnell, IA. “Throughout this pandemic, LINK has been able to provide childcare to support local business workers; most notably, first responders, healthcare workers, and the foodservice industry. This has been of upmost importance to continue to nurture our health and well being of our community’s children.”
“Our dealership is working hard to come back from the economic shock of the pandemic. We have made progress, but challenges remain,” said Jeremy Ketelsen, Vice President Ketelsen RV in Hiawatha, IA. “Among our top concerns are keeping our customers and employees safe each day, inventory shortages, and parts supply chain issues as we navigate through this new environment.”
“COVID-19 has laid bare the realities of the digital divide and the ways in which rural America is vulnerable,” said Mark Rembert, Head of the Rural Innovation Network at the Center on Rural Innovation in Hartland, VT. “Lack of broadband availability in rural areas limits access to education, challenges employees forced to work remotely, and diminishes productivity for small businesses scrambling to quickly adopt technology and move their business online. While it is still too early to predict the long-term effects of the pandemic and recession, it seems likely that it will accelerate trends in automation as firms try to maintain operations while reducing staff to minimize the risks of spreading COVID-19.”