Although starting and growing a successful small business can be more difficult in rural America, it also can be more impactful. By creating jobs, stimulating innovation and nurturing productivity, small and locally-owned businesses can help rural towns and geographies prosper in ways that improve the physical, social and economic well-being of the people who live in them.
Key research findings include:
Part 1: Economic Anxiety Persists
- Small businesses have rebounded from COVID-19: Across both rural and non-rural locations, a third of small business owners (34.7%) say business has returned to pre-pandemic levels; another four in 10 (42.6%) say business is stronger than it was before the coronavirus pandemic.
- Rural entrepreneurs are uncertain: Despite their recovery, more than half of small businesses in rural communities (53.3%) feel somewhat or extremely negative about the economy and its effects.
- Finding customers keeps business owners up at night—and so does inflation: Getting customers is the number one challenge for all small business owners: 54.6% cited it as one of their top three business challenges right now. For rural small business owners, however, inflation and supply chain disruptions also loom large.
- Cash flow is a conundrum for rural businesses: Rural entrepreneurs are more likely than non-rural entrepreneurs to say they’re impacted by higher costs of doing business (i.e. rent, utilities, gas), as well as higher financing expenses (i.e. higher interest rates, costs to borrow).
- Outside financing is helpful but elusive: Among all small businesses, two-thirds need outside financing while three-quarters have trouble accessing it. For those in rural areas, the scarcity of local bank branches can be an added barrier.
- Capital, debt relief, and infrastructure are possible solutions: Rural and non-rural entrepreneurs agree that access to capital and loan forgiveness/debt relief programs would help them be more successful. Rural entrepreneurs, in particular, said infrastructure improvements also would be beneficial.
Part 2: Hungry for Talent and Technology
- Americans are on the move—and rural businesses are feeling it: With rural America losing population, rural entrepreneurs (45.3%) are significantly more likely than non-rural entrepreneurs (25.5%) to say that population trends impact their business.
- Rural businesses are hurting for workers: Population shifts create challenges for small rural employers, over a third of which (35.9%) say there are few qualified workers in their area.
- Rural entrepreneurs struggle with more expenses and fewer customers: Rising fuel costs (49.3%), slowing customer spending (48.6%), tight marketing budgets (47.6%) and a limited local customer base (34.6%) are their most vexing customer-related challenges, rural small businesses say.
- The technology gap between rural and non-rural businesses persists: Rural entrepreneurs (19.2%) are twice as likely as non-rural entrepreneurs (9%) to cite broadband/high-speed internet access as a technology challenge. Small businesses in both rural and non-rural areas, meanwhile, say they’re challenged by a lack of technology knowledge or assistance.
- Health insurance is a competitive advantage: Rural (35.3%) and non-rural (36.4%) entrepreneurs agree that better health care options would help them succeed, especially as they struggle to compete with larger employers for qualified talent.
Rural entrepreneurs in the United States are experiencing growing economic anxiety due to various challenges, including access to capital, workforce development, and digital infrastructure.
Rural small businesses in the US need digital skills and technology to stay competitive, according to a survey by SCORE. Many struggle to find qualified employees, but remain optimistic about the future and willing to invest in their businesses.
The Megaphone of Main Street data report series by SCORE provides insights into small business trends and challenges in the United States. The reports cover a range of topics such as the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on small businesses, financial management strategies, and marketing tactics. The data is collected through surveys of small business owners, providing valuable information for entrepreneurs, policymakers, and other stakeholders interested in the success of small businesses.