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Iowa Farm Bureau commits $5 million to help rural Iowa
By DOUG SCHMITZ
Iowa Correspondent

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — As part of an innovative effort to revitalize the state’s rural communities, the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation (IFBF) earlier this month announced plans to commit $5 million to a new initiative that would focus on helping Iowa’s farmers and rural entrepreneurs develop or expand interstate commerce businesses.

“We believe that Iowa’s rural heritage and entrepreneurial spirit is what makes our state unique and why Iowans ultimately want to live here,” said IFBF President Craig Lang at a Sept. 12 news conference held at the Cedar Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, where he announced the new agribusiness venture, Renew Rural Iowa. “Our goal is to help rural communities prosper for future generations.

“This new model for rural growth should help our communities uncover strengths and develop new opportunities by combining Farm Bureau’s community relationships with new strategic business and investment tools,” he said. “Ultimately, we’re talking about an effort that is focused on the wealth creation of hometown businesses which could breathe new life into small towns.”

Incorporated in 2003, Renew Rural Iowa was born out of a partnership with IFBF and Cedar Rapids-based Entrepreneurial Development Center, Inc. (EDC), a State of Iowa Business Accelerator, which has been assisting over 250 small businesses in Iowa, mainly in the Cedar Rapids-Iowa City corridor, working with 20-25 businesses at a time.

EDC’s mission is to focus on “scalable, regional, national or international companies” and to provide economic growth through the development and expansion of Iowa-headquartered entrepreneurial enterprise.

EDC CEO Curtis Nelson said IFBF, who has made a three-year commitment to Renew Rural Iowa, was looking for a way to provide greater value to rural Iowa.

“With EDC’s program, applicable rural Iowa business opportunities will get hands-on help creating greater success rates or faster expansions,” he said.

Through its partnership with IFBF, EDC plans to renovate its existing operations to bring business education and mentoring opportunities to rural Iowa as a part of Renew Rural Iowa, which would target communities with less than 30,000 residents.

While participating in Renew Rural Iowa, entrepreneurs would be able to choose from six, two-day seminars, taking them through such phases as writing a business plan, determining appropriate financing, and analyzing market research and various funding resources.

The second day would provide pre-qualified participants hands-on mentoring to help accelerate their existing businesses or create start-ups, which would give successful companies the chance to continue in Renew Rural Iowa as they grow and develop.

Nelson said bridging the gap between good ideas and successful businesses requires the right help at the right time.

“Whether it is experienced mentoring, connecting with public or private resources, finding quality talent, or raising money, it happens more effectively if there is a qualified resource specifically designed and staffed accordingly.

“EDC was built around successful national models to proactively improve Iowa’s entrepreneurial success rates,” he added. “We are proud to be associated with IFBF and their rural development efforts.”

One unique component of Renew Rural Iowa is the rural vitality investment fund, which could add another $20 million from state venture capitalists who are interested in investing in the initiative to aid the potential financial needs of program participants.

“Because we feel so strongly about promoting rural Iowa, we’ve also committed $5 million to a rural vitality fund and are actively pursuing additional funding,” Lang said. “The fund is another potential tool for entrepreneurs who go through the program to assure them that if they can successfully complete the mentoring and development phases, funding resources are available for them to grow in rural Iowa.”

The Iowa Entrepreneurial Report Card, released every year from Washington, D.C., had recently shown that Iowa ranks last in new business creation and long-term employment growth, despite the nearly 5,000 Iowa manufacturing companies with less than 20 employees, which could expand their growth potential by joining the program.

Nelson said multiple funding organizations would get more involved in Renew Rural Iowa as the program develops.

“Rural Iowa historically produces a significant number of entrepreneurs, particularly related to improvements to or applications of agriculture,” Nelson said.

“A great rural agriculture example is Asoyia, LLC,” he said about the Washington, Iowa-based manufacturing company, which created and marketed the nation’s first low-linoleic soybean oil.

In fact, EDC brought in new Asoyia President Greg Keeley to bolster its leadership as a result of the program.

“We helped Asoyia find an applicable CEO to help it grow,” he said. Renew Rural Iowa’s first seminar will be Nov. 30 and Dec. 1 at Buena Vista University in Storm Lake, Iowa.

This farm news was published in the Sept. 27, 2006 issue of Farm World, serving Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee.

9/27/2006