A three-year pilot project in northeast Iowa designed to help rural entrepreneurs expand and grow their businesses is expanding statewide. The University of Northern Iowa’s regional business center is running the program called “Entrenet” with state funding from the Iowa Values fund. Center director Maureen Williams-Collins says the pilot program proved the idea can work. She says, “It’s based on the premise that talented, innovative entrepreneurs exist outside of urban regions. And if they’re given access to advanced technical assistance and training, market research, community support networks and access to capital, they’ll start, successfully operate and expand small businesses in rural parts of the state.”
Williams-Collins says the program can line the small business owners up with people who can answer their questions about a variety of issues. She says they’ve partner with the best entrepreneurial service providers in the state to make them available to people in rural areas in a way that makes them useful and fruitful as the plan to start or expand their businesses.
She says the program is wide open, but it’s the small businesses that’ll take advantage. She says probably 60-percent of the businesses they work with probably have fewer than 10 employees. She says the other 40-percent are light manufacturing, value-added ag companies, some technology firms. Williams-Collins says they aren’t trying to lure major manufacturing companies into rural Iowa, as she says it wouldn’t work if they wanted to. She says the rural areas don’t have the infrastructure to support really large businesses — but she says they have family values, community support, and the infrastructure to support a lot of smaller businesses.
Williams-Collins says they feel growing the small businesses is important for the state. She says a smaller more diverse economy allows the state to weather some of the things, like a recession or inflation, that put larger companies into a decline, and impact larger communities. Williams-Collins says over the next 90 days they’ll be selecting four new Entrenet regions that bid on the program. She says they’ll then begin receiving services in January and August of next year.