Guest post written by Wilder Ferreira
Clemson Cooperative Extension, Agribusiness Program Team, [email protected]
A sustainable rural development project should educate students – the next generation of farmers, ranchers, business innovators, and landowners – about entrepreneurship opportunities available to them. A comprehensive entrepreneurship project consists of several components, including the collection and dissemination of information on a variety of local markets, support from community and municipal improvement projects, and the recruitment of investors and donors from private and public sources for new business ventures and economic development initiatives.
A pilot project introduced in the Freshwater Coast region of South Carolina (Abbeville County, McCormick County, and southern Anderson County) comprised all of the aforementioned components and created an atmosphere of entrepreneurial development, community strength, and leadership creation throughout the region. This initiative was sponsored by Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service, the Freshwater Coast Community Foundation (FCCF), and West Carolina Rural Telephone Cooperative (WCTEL).
The Freshwater Coast Rural Entrepreneurship Alliance consisted of a variety of events, trainings, and resources to provide support to local organizations and community members. This included workshops for businesses and entrepreneurs, several community meetings organized to assess the region’s needs, business plan contests, career development teams to promote workforce development, and assisting boards, municipalities, and economic development teams to support efforts in improving the region’s economic and social conditions. The groundwork for change was established in the first five years of the project, from 2015 to 2020.
During the planning phase, financial resources were identified and requested through grants and donations to promote activities for rural development in the region. Coalitions with multiple stakeholders were then established to put in place entrepreneurial and workforce development programs that encouraged business creation, expansion, and retention. During the implementation process, many organizations collaborated to increase participation in the events and educational activities.
The dissemination of information was made possible by working with the WCTEL executive team, FCCF board members, Clemson Extension agents, Future Farmers of America (FFA) students, Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA) students, community development specialists, town employees, elected officials, county employees, chambers of commerce, high schools, middle schools, local businesses, and local colleges. More than fifteen hundred people benefited from numerous events. Figure 1 displays a meeting in McCormick County to disseminate information about entrepreneurial opportunities.
Investment in New Leaders
A rural development project may be best suited by using a model to find and nurture young entrepreneurial leaders. This project’s ideas ranged from featuring community-based enterprise planning, marketing, and branding of rural enterprises to promoting professional/business relationships among students, municipalities, and business owners. Increased community participation was needed to initiate collaboration among local schools in leadership and entrepreneurship. These collaborations were able to catalyze a commitment to small businesses, agribusiness, and nature-based enterprises by local students. Therefore, a selection of partnerships encouraged local schools to establish entrepreneurial activities, and as a result, more than 200 students participated in business plan contests promoted by the Freshwater Coast’s rural development project.
New leadership was important to build a network of enthusiastic advocates and financial supporters among entrepreneurs of all kinds to sustain the growth of the initiative. Figure 2 shows Amanda Morgan, a new leader identified by the project, giving a presentation about community health issues in Abbeville County.
Through this community and economic development model, the new rural alliance was able to actively identify and pursue new areas of entrepreneurship and innovation by establishing structured mentorship/apprenticeship opportunities. These opportunities were developed by inviting successful entrepreneurs to give lectures that led to mentoring relationships that expanded upon existing strategic relationships. New areas of entrepreneurship and innovation were also developed by exploring the use of continuing education programs at the local community college for mid-career entrepreneurs and executives, helping integrate innovation and entrepreneurial learning. More than 300 businesses and growers benefited from the mentoring and educational programs, with 50 new local, small businesses established and an additional $3 million in sales.
To quickly start the project, college interns were hired to participate in a multitude of initiatives throughout the region. Interns were invited to help coordinate local farmers’ markets once a week, work with community leaders to create youth programs, write newsletters, build marketing campaigns, and promote senior wellness programs. Interns also created presentations to post on Facebook and other social media platforms. A few interns were asked to interact with different populations and analyze their social and economic environment. This assessment helped visualize a better future for rural communities.
During a five-year period interns learned new personal and business skills, which allowed them to work diligently to assess and provide solutions to problems at hand, rather than simply typing in data and drafting reports. Figure 3 shows Cody White, an intern from Clemson University, giving a presentation on a feasibility study that he completed during his internship.
Rural development projects should emphasize the creation of new, potential business ideas. A valuable feasibility study focuses on the careful identification and assessment of all the essential innovative aspects for business and community success. Depending on the project, local and regional market assessments may be generated. Interns helped coordinate feasibility studies with the help of economic developers, the Greenwood Area Small Business Development Center, and entrepreneurs. The Freshwater Coast’s rural entrepreneurship project helped support more than $5 million in community and business development projects. The overall business revenues of these investments will surpass $40 million in the next 25 years for the entire region.
A feasibility study proposal primarily outlines the general business model (i.e., how the business will make money), the technical processes, size, location, type of inputs, and the timeline projection. The timeline projection details how long a project will take from the inception until it is up and running at capacity. The feasibility study proposal must include the size and scope of the industry, the major competitors, the demand for the product or service, the capital needs, expected expenses, and profitability. SCORE’s Financial Projections Template was used to help assess the feasibility of an enterprise during this project. See Figure 4.
Rural development projects are vital for communities to thrive socially and economically. Choosing a viable model through internships, youth leadership, and new business development is critical for a rural community to become and remain vibrant. A rural coalition backed by local champions, such as the Freshwater Coast Community Foundation’s leadership team, and influential decision makers can help facilitate the planning and execution of programs. The first step is to assess the needs of the community. This assessment will inform community priorities and drive community-supported action to create an impactful project that serves the community and educates the next generation of business leaders.