Since 2012, the SC SBDC has been doing its part to implement a robust, proactive Rural Outreach program in collaboration with the SC Department of Commerce that cultivates what the USDA considers the five key indicators of rural prosperity: 1) e-Connectivity, 2) Quality of Life, 3) Rural Workforce, 4) Technological Innovation and 5) Economic Development.
As a pathway to rural prosperity in South Carolina, the SC SBDC provides resources, tools, education and support to build thriving, sustainable rural communities for generations to come. Specific rural outreach initiatives focus on assisting with financial literacy, business startups and expansions, access to capital, local food initiatives, technology innovations, advocacy, contracting, e-connectivity and business education. Highlights of some of these initiatives are described below.
Over a decade ago Ben Smith, a business consultant with the Clemson Area SBDC, fostered a collaboration with Will Culler of Clemson University’s College of Agriculture & Forestry Life Sciences (CAFLS).
“Our initial goal was to bring FastTrack workshops, which is a national program, to small businesses in Upstate South Carolina,” said Smith. “This program is an example of the SC SBDC’s commitment to advocating agribusiness by exposing them to entrepreneurial and small-business management tools and education.”
In addition to these activities, SC SBDC business consultants Jim Johnson, Ben Calhoun, and Ben Smith are working closely with Clemson University’s New & Beginning Farmer Program (SCNBFP), a special CAFLS initiative focused on providing new and beginning farmers the tools, knowledge and skills necessary to be successful entrepreneurs.
Diana Vossbrinck, the SCNFP Assistant Director, said “Jim Johnson and Ben Smith make very important contributions to our program and programming every year, and we are pleased to have an opportunity to introduce our participants to the invaluable services provided by the SC SBDC.”
Johnson, Calhoun and Smith also serve as SC SBDC representatives on the State-Wide Advisory Board and as facilitators on the topics of Strategic Positioning & Marketing at the annual New & Beginning Farmer Program.
This early collaboration spawned interest and additional programs throughout the state. SC SBDC business consultants Beth Smith, Ben Calhoun, Jim Johnson, Jill Burroughs, Eduardo Venegas and others became involved in programs supporting agribusiness and rural initiatives such as the Fresh Water Coast development project and Feeding Innovation.
LOCAL FOOD INITIATIVES AND ACCESS TO CAPITAL
The SC SBDC facilitates the Feeding Innovation program created by a partnership between the South Carolina Community Loan Fund and Clemson Extension to bring healthy food to underserved communities. Feeding innovation includes eight weeks of entrepreneurship and business planning courses where participants craft business plans and receive instruction on financial planning, operations management and more. At the conclusion of the program, participants pitch their ideas to a panel of judges that picks a winner to receive $12,500 in seed capital for their business. Several SC SBDC clients have won this competition.
The SBDC has been working with the SC State University School of Business on assisting small agribusinesses through a special technology grant. “This grant is designed to help agricultural-related small businesses wishing to create or update their websites. The service is free to small businesses,” said Jim Johnson, SC State region director.
The SC has worked in numerous rural communities for many years to improve financial literacy and help small businesses improve the fiscal management of their operations. The SC SBDC is part of a coalition, led by the SC SBA District Office, that includes organizations such as the USDA, SCORE and the Department of Agriculture. Together, these agencies implement the SBA’s Rural Strong program which is aimed at creating a stronger economic environment for rural South Carolina. The program consists of half-day workshops which are held at various locations around the state and offer small business owners and farmers the resources they need to flourish.
The SC SBDC also partners with the Department of Agriculture and its Center for Agricultural Research and Entrepreneurship (ACRE). ACRE offers multiple business development tracks aimed at aiding entrepreneurs with innovative ideas in row crops, aquaculture and agribusiness technology. ACRE also has funded the SC State SBDC, enabling SBDC consultants in that region to expand workshops and specialty programs offered to small companies.
“Our partnership with ACRE has enabled us to reach a wide spectrum of farmers in high need areas,” said Johnson. “But we also have valuable partnerships with organizations such as Clemson Extension Agribusiness and 1890 Extension. Bottom line: the SC SBDC pulls out all the stops when it comes to supporting agribusiness owners and rural entrepreneurs,” Johnson said.
SERVING THE RURAL COMMUNITY
The common denominator in all these initiatives is the rural business owner—the innovative and gutsy entrepreneur who lives beyond the hub of a major city. “The SC SBDC is committed to creating a stronger economic environment for rural businesses and is working with local governments, chambers and community organizations to reach as many aspiring and existing entrepreneurs to help them start, grow and expand," said SC SBDC State Director Michele Abraham. “Our SC SBDC has been intentional in our support of small rural businesses. We work to build sustainable rural economies by supporting small enterprises, services and projects.”
By improving rural prosperity, increasing opportunities for agriculture and expanding bio-economy, the SBDC is striving to create thriving communities where people want to live and raise families, and where children have a bright future.