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Statement of the Hon. Jared Golden on Rural American Recovery: The Role of Small Businesses and Entrepreneurship

The health of the economy in rural communities is strongly tied to the overall well-being of the American economy. Rural areas hold the vast majority of our country’s land and supply the rest of the country with the food, water, and energy we depend on.  And yet, as the representative of one of the most rural districts in the country, I’ve seen countless examples of the ways rural communities are ignored by the federal government and left out of the national political debate. 

Even when Washington discusses rural America, rural Americans themselves are provided little actual input. They are essentially the subject of debate rather than leading the debate.  As a result, the federal government makes half-hearted attempts to spur economic development in rural communities. 

Programs are targeted to urban and suburban areas — where the money is — without much thought for how those programs impact rural communities or could be changed to better help rural business owners like farmers, small-scale manufacturers, fishermen, loggers, and many others.  The Office of Rural Affairs within the Small Business Administration is a classic symbol of how the federal government, and Congress, has failed in its commitment to rural America. As a good friend of mine is known to say about politics and government: “Too often when all is said and done, more will be said than done.” 

The SBA Office of Rural Affairs was first established in 1990 during the first Bush administration to provide information and assistance to rural businesses. However, the office has been left largely vacant since 2005. When I arrived in Congress in 2019, I was upset to learn that the office was dormant and so I worked with a group of like-minded Members to raise the issue with the Trump Administration. The administration was receptive and became the first in nearly 15 years to devote resources to the office. 

Given that the office has been either empty or wildly under-resourced for years, it’s no wonder that one of the problems I hear most about SBA from rural small business owners is that they just don’t know much about their services, such as SBDCs or SCORE, or believe that their loans aren’t competitive or come with too many bureaucratic strings attached.    

I was encouraged that the Acting Director of the office was able to hire additional staff in 2020 thanks to funding from the CARES Act. Congress should provide the office with a dedicated funding authorization so that it can build on what it accomplished in 2019 and 2020, rather than fading away again to leave rural businesses without an advocate within SBA. This office can and should play a critical role in connecting rural Americans to programs and services that will help their business and subsequently help their communities. It should also play a role in bringing feedback from rural businesses back to SBA headquarters, regionally and nationally, so that it can make improvements to better serve these important businesses.

I hope that today’s hearing provides us with the opportunity to discuss ways we can strengthen the Office of Rural Affairs and other initiatives to support rural businesses. I see the same value in the office that the Trump Administration saw, and I believe that this work is long overdue and is important to so many communities across this country.

I look forward to working with my colleagues on this Subcommittee to ensure rural communities get the attention and support they deserve.

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