The Rural Entrepreneur: Extra Grit Required

2 min read • Dec 18, 2012 • Tyson Steele

Most people agree that running a business is hard. In my mind, the only thing more difficult is running a business in a rural town.

For one, it seems a lot harder to “make it big.” Just the types of business pursuits available to a rural entrepreneur are slimmer. From what I’ve seen, many rural towns’ main industries are in food production, natural resource extraction, and/or tourism (though often seasonal), which can be very successful; however, small businesses in technology, food services, home construction, and entertainment, to name a few, seldom thrive in low population areas.

So How Do Rural Businesses Survive?

I can’t speak for every rural community, but in a three month stint living in the town of Escalante (population 850), I observed one thing about rural business owners: they have grit.

A whole lot of grit.

escalante utah businessWhen I lived in Escalante, there were cowboys, farmers, artists, and hippies alike that did a little bit of everything to make ends meet. I knew an Escalante rancher whose main business was selling cattle. On the side, he assisted in an elderly home to supplement his main source of income. All on top of growing his own food.

One lady sold rugs made out of old clothing and brewed elderberry wine in her front room.

There was a hotel owner who was also a drum maker and coffee brewer.

One business owner ran guided trips, sold outdoor gear, rented a few seasonal cabins, and sold pizza and beer.

Why Rural Businesses Deserve a Little Help

Unfortunately, today, the economy is dying in this town. Many families are moving out & businesses closing. I remember someone commenting about the residents of Escalante: “The only people that live out here are war vets, widows, retirees looking for a quiet place to settle down, and a few single men with their dogs.” As the entrepreneurial spirit dies, so does the economy.

Sometimes, a rural business owner just needs a little financing to be successful. However, most of America faces a problem with the lack of access to capital, and rural areas have it even worse. Lenders have a lot to risk; banks typically keep their footprints close to headquarters and are wary of unfamiliar territory.

But there’s something to be said about that “grit.”

I recently read a story of a broadband services business in rural Alaska who received funding for a project to supply internet to 50 rural villages in Alaska. In a section of tundra, they had to lay a 43 mile cable in the dead of winter (summer travel was impossible because of the boggy land). At a river crossing, their machine for cutting ice wasn’t fast enough – the water would freeze before they could lay the cable.

So, they cut a hole in the ice, dove into the cold water, and walked the cable to the other side.

With the same amount of financing this Alaska company received, I wonder how many businesses would be willing to go through the same sort of trouble.

What’s Your Story of Rural Grit?

What stories do you have about rural business?


Tyson Steele