Rural businesses are an integral part of both local and national economies and communities. Nevertheless, as is the case with many other small businesses, rural businesses face a variety of challenges. And for many rural business owners, these challenges have only increased recently.
The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) provides a number of resources to help rural businesses — from COVID-19-related resources to rural business development funding for your small business and everything in between.
At ZenBusiness, we know how difficult this time has been for many rural businesses throughout the United States. That’s why we’re working harder than ever to help provide valuable services and resources to our customers in need. Read on to learn more about SBA resources that may be available for your rural business needs.
SBA Financing Options
Gaining access to financial resources is often one of the largest barriers to getting a rural business up and running. While rural businesses are vital to the overall U.S. economy, new businesses frequently encounter difficulties in finding the funding they need to get started.
Fortunately, the SBA offers a few financing options that are available to rural small businesses to help them get off the ground.
If your rural business doesn’t qualify for conventional financing, a 7(a) loan may be another option to consider.
The 7(a) loan program is the SBA’s largest financing program and provides valuable financial assistance to small businesses that may otherwise have no access to financing.
Types of 7(a) loans include:
- Standard 7(a),
- 7(a) Small Loan,
- SBA Express,
- Export Express,
- Export Working Capital,
- International Trade,
- Preferred Lenders,
- Veterans Advantage, and
The specific terms and conditions, such as the maximum loan amount and the guaranty percentage, may vary by the type of loan. Regardless, 7(a) loans can provide a great financial benefit to your growing business.
If your rural business meets the 7(a) loan eligibility requirements, you can use your loan to:
- Buy real estate,
- Buy equipment or inventory,
- Use as working capital,
- Refinance your business, or
- Purchase a small business.
To connect with a lender that may be able to offer SBA-backed funding for your rural business, use this Lender Match tool that connects entrepreneurs with SBA lenders.
504 Certified Development Company Loan
Another option for those small businesses that can’t find traditional financing is the Certified Development Company 504 Loan Program.
The 504 Loan Program provides long-term, fixed-rate financing of up to $5 million for major fixed assets that promote business growth and job creation. These types of loans are a great option for rural businesses that would like to purchase/renovate real estate, buy heavy equipment, or use major fixed assets for their small business.
To be eligible for a 504 Loan, your rural business must at the very least:
- Operate as a for-profit company in the United States or its territories;
- Have a tangible net worth of less than $15 million; and
- Have an average net income of less than $5 million after federal income taxes for the two years preceding your application.
Use the SBA’s Local Assistance Tool to contact a local certified development company and discuss additional eligibility criteria and loan application requirements.
Lastly, your rural business may be eligible for what is called a “Microloan” through the SBA. The Microloan program provides loans of up to $50,000 to help small businesses start up and expand.
Your rural small business may be eligible to borrow anywhere from $500 to $50,000. And as an added benefit, Microloan borrowers also have access to free business counseling from intermediary lenders.
Microloan funds can be used for a variety of purposes, including:
- Working capital,
- Machinery, and
Essentially, Microloan program funding can be used in nearly any way that helps rebuild, re-open, repair, enhance, improve, and grow your rural business. However, it is important to note that SBA Microloan proceeds cannot be used to pay existing debts or to purchase real estate.
To find a Microloan intermediary near you and discuss whether your rural business qualifies, contact your local SBA district office today.
Rural Opportunity Zones and HUBZones
The SBA also provides support to small businesses specifically located in historically underserved communities. Opportunity Zones and HUBZones are two place-based programs that were created to encourage business development, economic growth, and prosperity in traditionally rural areas.
Opportunity Zones were created by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017.
This program provides investors with incentives for making qualified investments in businesses located within certain low-income census tracts that are designated as “Opportunity Zones” by an individual state.
Investors who invest in eligible businesses located within these Opportunity Zones and who hold these qualifying investments for certain periods of time, may defer, reduce, and eventually eliminate capital gains tax obligations.
This program has two primary intentions: (1) to direct realized capital gains into particular communities that have not historically benefited from these types of investments; and (2) to encourage and reward investors who do choose to make long-term investments in these traditionally underserved Opportunity Zone communities.
To learn more about this program and explore your community’s Opportunity Zones, visit the U.S. Housing and Urban Development Opportunity Zones website.
The HUBZone program also works to fuel small business growth in historically underserved and underutilized business zones. This program provides such businesses with special access to federal contracts.
To qualify, your rural business must:
- Qualify as a small business for government contracting purposes;
- Be at least 51% owned and controlled by U.S. citizens, a community development corporation, an agricultural cooperative, an Alaska Native corporation, a Native Hawaiian organization, or an Indian tribe;
- Have its principal office located in a designated HUBZone; and
- Have at least 35% of its employees living in a designated HUBZone for at least 180 days prior to your application.
The HUBZone program’s goal is to award at least 3% of federal contract dollars to HUBZone-certified companies each year. HUBZone-certified businesses also get a 10% price evaluation preference in full and open contract competitions.
For more information on HUBZones, check out the SBA HUBZone program website. You can also go to the SBA’s Certify website to get a preliminary assessment of whether you meet the qualification criteria.
Even rural small businesses may need international exporting assistance.
In fact, approximately 96% of consumers live outside the U.S., and two-thirds of the world’s purchasing power lies in foreign countries.
So what do you do if you are a rural business having trouble securing capital to meet your business’s exporting needs? Fortunately, the SBA has several export finance assistance programs to help your business as it embarks on its international sales journey.
Use these international trade programs to assist in covering short- or long-term costs in connection with the sale of your goods or services abroad.
Export Express Loan
The Export Express loan program provides small businesses with a streamlined way to obtain SBA-backed financing for their exporting needs.
Export Express program lenders have the ability to directly underwrite loans and lines of credit of up to $500,000 without the need for prior approval from the SBA. This results in quicker access to capital, with most loans typically approved within 36 hours.
Export Working Capital Program
The Export Working Capital program is a great loan option for small businesses that are able to generate export sales but need additional working capital to support these sales.
By providing small business owners with the ability to apply for loans in advance of finalizing an export sale or contract, Export Working Capital loans give exporters greater flexibility in negotiating export payment terms.
Eligible applicants can be approved for loans of up to $5 million, and the SBA turnaround time is relatively short at around five to ten business days.
International Trade Loan Program
International trade loans help exporters who have been adversely affected by foreign importing competition or who are expanding due to growing export sales.
The maximum loan amount is $5 million in total financing, which can be used for:
- Fixed asset financing,
- Working capital financing, and
- Debt refinancing.
No matter how you plan to use your financing, the fact remains that an international trade loan can be a fantastic opportunity to help your small business better compete globally.
Research and Development
Innovation is crucial to the improvement and betterment of society, and such innovation is driven by constant research and development in various sectors.
At the root of most innovation in the United States you’ll find countless small businesses working in their respective fields to create and develop products, devices, technologies, and services that will drive the future.
A rural business has just as much potential to create the next big idea as any other small business. However, what many rural businesses lack is access to sources of funding for research and development. Below are some small business programs that can provide much-needed funding to help meet your rural business’s R&D needs.
America’s Seed Fund (SBIR and SBTT Programs)
America’s Seed Fund comprises two programs: the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program and the Small Business Technology Transfer (SBTT) program.
These programs fund a diverse array of startups and small businesses spanning various industries and markets.
These programs can provide valuable assistance to entrepreneurs in rural areas with rural business development grant writing, commercialization, and business counseling.
Federal and State Technology (FAST) Partnership Program
The Federal and State Technology (FAST) program also provides funding and assistance for organizations in the R&D stages. This program provides awardees with technical assistance, mentorship, and funding for one year to help commercialize their technologies.
In the aftermath of an unprecedented year that affected many new and growing businesses, the SBA has offered several programs to help rural and other small businesses recover from the impacts of COVID-19. Below are current COVID-19 relief options being offered by the SBA.
Paycheck Protection Program
The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) is an SBA-backed loan designed to help businesses keep their workforce employed and on payroll during the COVID-19 crisis.
While the Paycheck Protection Program ended on May 31, 2021, existing borrowers may now be eligible for PPP loan forgiveness. Specifically, First and Second Draw PPP loan borrowers may qualify for full loan forgiveness if during the 8- to 24- week period following loan disbursement:
- Employee and compensation levels are maintained;
- Loan proceeds are used to cover payroll costs and other eligible expenses; and
- At least 60% of the loan proceeds are spent on payroll costs.
For more information on eligibility requirements and how to apply for PPP loan forgiveness, visit the SBA’s PPP loan forgiveness website.
Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL)
In response to the COVID-19 crisis, Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL) loans were created to help small businesses meet their financial obligations and operating expenses that could have been met had the pandemic not occurred.
Specifically, these loans provide valuable economic relief to eligible small businesses and nonprofit organizations that are experiencing a temporary loss of revenue. Examples of allowable uses of proceeds include continuation of health care benefits, rent, utilities, and fixed debt payments.
SBA Debt Relief
The SBA also offers debt relief specifically for existing SBA loan borrowers whose businesses have been impacted by COVID-19. Borrowers don’t need to apply for initial debt relief assistance arising out of existing 7(a), 504, or Microloans.
Visit the SBA Debt Relief page for more information on requirements and additional guidance.
Contact ZenBusiness today
Your rural business is important. Now, more than ever, it is imperative that rural small businesses get the support and assistance they need.
At ZenBusiness, we know what it takes to start, run, and grow a successful rural business.
Ready to take the next step? Take a look at our business formation plans to see what ZenBusiness can do for you.
- What other government resources are there for rural businesses?
The U.S. Department of Agriculture also offers programs that offer financial backing and technical assistance specifically for rural business development. These Business Programs help provide capital, equipment, loans, and other resources to support the growth of businesses in rural areas.
- What business can I start in a rural area?
There are many types of business you can start in a rural area, such as farming operations or local convenience stores. You might even be able to start and run a web-based sales or marketing business from the comfort of your own home. However, keep in mind the potential limitations of rural areas. For example, businesses that rely heavily on foot traffic may not be well suited for these regions.
- What businesses do well in rural areas?
Though you can start many types of businesses in rural areas, some types of businesses inherently do better than others. Traditionally, businesses in the agricultural industry do very well in rural areas. Examples of businesses that you might consider starting in a rural area include those related to farming, livestock, and equipment maintenance, rental, and sales.
- What are the advantages of having a business in a rural area?
There are many advantages to having a business in a rural area. Some of these advantages include lower cost of materials and labor, as well as a more loyal customer base.
- Which franchises work best in rural areas?
One disadvantage of rural areas is the lack of access to popular business options. Thus, franchises that work best in rural areas generally include popular restaurants and retail stores that do not have any other locations in the area.