STEPHENVILLE — Bill Leaverton, Director of the Small Business Development Center at Tarleton State University, addressed a U.S. congressional subcommittee last week on challenges faced by rural small businesses.
Congressman Roger Williams, a longtime supporter of Tarleton and small business, extended the invitation to learn more about rural small business in the 25th district of the House of Representatives.
“We represent some of the most rural areas of the state, if not the nation,” Leaverton told Rep. Jared Golden of Maine, who chairs the House Committee on Small Business. “The SBDC’s overall focus is to simply help our clients become successful as small business owners.”
The center is an outreach of the Northwest Texas Small Business Development Center. It provides counseling, technical assistance, training workshops and reference resources for small businesses and entrepreneurs.
“Mr. Leaverton’s understanding of the problems facing small businesses in Texas’ rural communities was evident in his address to the small business committee,” said Dr. Rupa Iyer, Vice President for Research, Innovation and Economic Development at Tarleton. “It’s hard to overestimate the value of his insights and experience to entrepreneurs seeking help from the SBDC.”
Leaverton, one of five witnesses in the hour-and-a-half session, pointed out the differences between rural and urban small business owners and their needs.
“The first distinction is the rural environment requires face-to-face interaction,” he said. “This type of interaction builds the most cornerstone foundation of small business in the rural setting, and that is trust.
In many instances this in-person model derives from the lack of technology in non-urban regions.
“In many rural areas they simply do not have access to internet service. This makes online participation in webinars and Zoom conferences impractical, at best,” Leaverton said. “For example, I worked for seven months for a community in rural Texas to open a daycare center. It injected $260,000 into the economy, created eight jobs and, more importantly, put rural parents back onto the workforce.
“I communicated with those people almost exclusively face to face or via telephone. They couldn’t do Zoom conferences because they had no access to the internet. Unfortunately, this is a problem that is rampant in small communities in Texas.”
Beset by labor issues, rising costs and supply chain shortages, micro businesses in rural settings need help, and Leaverton sees the government offering long-term, streamlined programs and direct access to capital.
“Recently I was able to obtain a $300,000 rural development grant from the USDA,” he told the committee. “This allowed the Stephenville Economic Development Foundation to create a revolving loan that will create access to capital and jobs for our rural communities.
“The SBA is a successful organization, but the need to keep finding ways to strengthen our collaboration is essential for rural business.”