A motorcycle trip through southwestern Colorado, northeastern Arizona, and southern Utah over Memorial Day weekend reinforced the importance of a healthy small business community in towns large and small. Granted, the communities along the route were not what you would call major population centers, but there were towns that seemed to be thriving and others that looked as if they were taking their last breath.
Many of the communities now depend on tourism to keep them alive, but there are other industries doing well along the highway. It was obvious to me the communities with a healthy Main Street looked tidy and alive, while those that didn’t were boarded up and deserted. It was amazing to me how the residential areas in the town reflected Main Street. I don’t think this is a surprise to anyone—especially those who live in these small towns—when business leaves Main Street, the health of the community is quick to follow.
Next month, a group of bicyclists from My New Enterprise are taking a bicycle trip from Oregon to Virginia through the heartland of the United States to talk to the very small business owners mentioned above. They want to know what makes the successful businesses in rural America successful so they can share it with the rest of the Main Street businesses around the country.
Over the next 48 hours, you can even participate in making this all happen by contributing to a Kickstarter campaign to help them fund the trip—if you feel so inclined. You’ll also be able to follow them via Lendio social media as they cross the country, interview business owners, and share photos and video of the journey. I’m pleased the company I work for decided to be one of the sponsors of this effort. Big business and sexy tech start-ups seem to get so much press it’s hard not to think they’re the only game in town.
The plight of Main Street isn’t limited to rural communities either—it’s just a little more obvious. One of the biggest challenges faced by small business is accessing the capital they need to thrive and grow. Many of the traditional sources of capital Main Street has relied on for years has moved upstream to bigger and potentially more lucrative fish. The dry cleaners, mechanics, and local restaurants we all patronize have a difficult time accessing capital. What’s more, for those who are able to access capital it’s more expensive. Only about 10 percent of small business owners who visit the local bank are able to secure a loan there, leaving the other 90 percent empty handed.
Fortunately, specialty non-bank lenders are filling the void but the capital is more expensive, requiring borrowers to be even more aware of the costs associated with small business borrowing. What’s more, a careless small business owner, with the wrong financing, can even borrow his or her way out of business.
Around half of the U.S. workforce works in small business and almost 75 percent of new jobs are created there. Collectively small business is incredibly important to our economy, making addressing those capital needs important too.
I’m encouraged to see the new Administrator at the Small Business Administration (SBA), Maria Contreras-Sweet, take the bull by the horns and start to address the importance of getting small-dollar SBA-backed loans to Main Street business owners. And, the influx of alternative, non-bank, lenders into the small business market is a good thing as small business owners struggle to find capital at the local bank. When compared to the top ten SBA lender banks providing loans of $150,000 or less (loan amounts closer to the Main Street sweet spot), alternative lenders are without question providing more capital to fill the needs of small business owners. Contreras-Sweet’s push couldn’t be at a more needed time.
Riding through dozens of small towns on Memorial weekend, it felt good to patronize the local businesses as we stopped for lunch or spent the night.
I hope you’ll follow along with the folks on the road with My New Enterprise as they cross the United States and introduce us to the most successful rural business owners and what they’re doing to stay that way.