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Guest commentary: Farm bill proposal leaves rural businesses behind

Anyone familiar with rural communities knows that locally-owned businesses are the jewels that make them vibrant. However, in many rural communities, entrepreneurs can struggle to establish new businesses. Often, needed resources and training in business planning are unavailable to aspiring, rural business owners.

A farm bill program, the Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program (RMAP), helps small business owners bridge those gaps. RMAP awards grants to community organizations, who in turn offer rural entrepreneurs crucial support ranging from composing business plans to accessing loan capital.

Although RMAP represents a small piece of the farm bill, it impacts rural communities in a huge way. Unfortunately, this program is on weak footing: If the current farm bill drafts are finalized, RMAP's funding will vanish. Renewing this funding is crucial for not only for rural entrepreneurs, but also for their local economies and the communities they serve.

Small business entrepreneurship is a vital economic development strategy for many rural communities. Locally-owned and owner-operated small businesses are particularly important as large employers in rural areas diminish and take their employment opportunities with them.

Facilitating the development of small businesses puts the economic future of rural communities in the hands of its own members — people committed to its future.

The unique approach of RMAP provides important tools to entrepreneurs and offers an important economic development strategy for rural communities — a big bang for the taxpayer's buck.

We urge legislators in the Senate and the House to include funding for this proven program in the renewal of the farm bill.

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