Bay Minette hosts first Rural Strong workshop

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BAY MINETTE, Alabama — About 25 lenders and small business professionals gathered Thursday, April 25 at the Bay Minette City Hall for the first Rural Strong Workshop in Alabama.

The event was hosted by the North Baldwin Chamber of Commerce in partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Small Business Administration and the Alabama Small Business Development Center Network.

Rural Strong Alabama is a new partnership between the USSBA and the USDA designed for increased access to capital and new program delivery initiative in Alabama.

Working together from an historic national Memorandum of Understanding between the two agencies, the Alabama-based leadership of both the USDA and the USSBA have agreed to stimulate rural economic development by increasing opportunities for access to capital.

“Access to capital through these two federal agencies is an important part of growing investment and jobs in rural Alabama counties,” said Thomas Todt, the US SBA District Director. “In the months ahead, we intend to jointly hold several Rural Strong work shops around rural Alabama to publicize and promote a new awareness of these valuable programs.”

Chris Beeker, USDA State Director, Alabama thinks the benefits of Rural Strong Alabama are many.

“Most of all, informing rural small businesses and lenders of the major benefits of these two federal programs will stimulate investment in our state’s rural areas,” Beeker said. “USDA rural lending has a proven track record of support for farm and rural investment. Now, we want both the USDA’s loan programs and the US SBA small business loans to create new opportunities for rural entrepreneurs and business owners.”

Ashley Jones Davis, executive director of the NBCoC, said the Rural Strong initiative will educate small business members and lenders about the capital access opportunities available to them, along with other programs that can be of assistance to rural businesses.

“Educating our business community about the benefits of the funding that is available and programs offered to them will only encourage and stimulate a healthy and growing economy throughout rural Alabama,” she said.

The five-hour workshop featured a presentation from the USDA by Marcia Johnson, Business & Cooperative specialist with USDA Rural Development; and a presentation from the SBA by Brent McMahan, senior area manager.

Following a short break for lunch the workshop concluded with six resources in 60 minutes, including:

•Community Development Financial Institutions Fund, presented by Bob Jones, president of United Bank.

•Energy Programs, presented by Michael Wilber, business specialist/energy coordinator, USDA.

•Small Business Development Center, presented by Mel Washington, SBCE regional manager; and Yolanda Johnson, SBDC business advisor.

•Hub Zones, presented by Carol Ann House, business opportunity lead, SBA.

•Revolving Loan Program, Alyssa Nelson, program assistant, South Alabama Regional Planning Commission.

•Opportunity Zones, Michael Berson, associate, Adams & Reece.

For more information about the Rural Strong Alabama program, go to asbdc.org/rural-strong-alabama. Questions? Call 1-877-825-7232.

Press release provided by the North Baldwin Chamber of Commerce with additional reporting by Onlooker co-editor John Underwood.