Lawmakers weigh challenges of rural small businesses during and beyond pandemic

WASHINGTON, DC — Rural communities around the country are known for their tranquility and scenic country views, and they’re also home to thousands of small businesses.

“The talent, innovation and resiliency of America’s rural areas will play a central role in the future of the U.S. economy,” said Nathan Ohle, Chief Executive Officer of the Rural Community Assistance Partnership.

Lawmakers in a House panel Tuesday heard testimony about the unique challenges small businesses in rural areas face because of their remote locations.

Unlike companies in major cities or towns, rural business owners may have limited access to the internet, difficulty accessing government loans, and trouble finding and retaining employees.

Alan Crawford, the Owner and President of Rangaire Manufacturing in Cleburne, Texas testified about the ongoing challenges including the rising cost of goods and materials.

“I lose a lot of sleep thinking about making payroll, trying to mitigate cost increases and manage pressure,” said Alan Crawford. “Labor has been a significant challenge in both finding adequate participants and meeting demands for higher wages.”

Organizations that help rural small businesses said many had difficulty accessing pandemic relief from the government, like the Paycheck Protection Program.

“A substantial number of small business had difficulty accessing the programs,” said Ohle. “There is still a great need for additional PPP funds for rural small businesses as many got left behind in the final days of the program.”

Witnesses called for more funding for the Small Business Administration’s Office of Rural Affairs.

“Having a consistent rural focused resource at SBA can help ensure we know where to go with any questions or concerns,” said Jessica Campos, the Women’s Business Center Director for the Center for Rural Affairs.

Small businesses in rural areas accounted for a larger share of the pandemic relief loans this year compared to the beginning of the pandemic following a rule change that allowed many farms to qualify for the help when they didn’t qualify before.