The mission to develop business projects is important. Above all, in central Nebraska, it is taken very seriously and there is an organization that supplies micro-lending to business owners who want to start new projects in the area.
The Rural Enterprise Assistance Project (REAP) works within a large context in compliance with the Center for Rural Affairs in Nebraska.
This Center for Rural Affairs engages farmers, ranchers, and rural communities in order to develop a more sustainable economy. The sustainability is the result of a strong effort in collaboration with local environment and allows people that start from nothing to make their dream come true.
REAP is a program held by a non-profit organization, which helps people providing a wide range of services. REAP includes four major areas of action: business management, training, loan fund and technical assistance. Technical Assistance is aimed to business owners or managers in order to startup or start over an existing business. Micro and small business fund access are related to direct lending and loan packaging assistance as needed. Business management and training is focused on the opportunity to collaborate with local economies and on the development of activities for the Women’s Business Center.
What makes them very unique in the landscape, is the different approach adopted if compared to the bank system. Indeed, people who work for REAP enhance networking in order to ease the integration of foreigners in the local community. Services are provided for free and because of this, the realization of the projects is driven by strong motivation and belief to help each others.
Griselda Rendon, a Latino Loan Specialist for REAP, is well-known within the Hispanic community and all over central Nebraska. She works with Hispanic business owners and entrepreneurs who want to enjoy the local community and run a business. She is active within the territory since the demand of packing plant workers from landowners influenced the request of people from other places. Indeed, most of these workers came from Hispanic countries such as El Salvador, Cuba and Mexico.
However, the major part of them often had the dream to run a business by themselves and this is the reason why REAP is so useful.
REAP provides support to business-driven individuals and have the resources suitable to run a business, but they may not have the right know-how. It is not as easy to start a business in the region since Hispanic entrepreneurs may not be familiar with the language or the local bureaucracy, especially in a different cultural environment. And to get a concrete partnership with other communities is difficult if they mistrust them.
In that context, Rendon offers a real precious service since she provides support for integration and development starting from the economic field. Her participation is well-perceived by people and the preparation courses she holds are very successful and helpful.
She holds courses in Spanish where she proposes different topics in regard to the different interests taken by emerging entrepreneurs. These courses are important for individuals as they contribute to the socialization of the Hispanic community. The main goal of the courses is to create a real network in order to keep in contact people from different industries, banks, organizations and everyone who cares about partnership.
Additionally, REAP provides access to loan possibilities and aids non-English speaking individuals through the loan process. This work is all made possible through funding from the Small Business Administration, United States Department of Agriculture, Nebraska Department of Economic Development, United States Department of Treasury, various foundations and gracious donations.
However, integration is not so hard. Although the social climate in Nebraska suggests a sort of exclusivity, Grand Island has become a welcoming community, according to Rendon. The city is willing to know new people and to try new things such as the services provided by Latinos. This situation, of course, enhances integration and contribution to the development of the country itself since people are likely to interact with each other and to learn from the others.
Indeed, it often happens that people succeed in their dream, and as Rendon said, “I am very grateful when people achieve their goal passing through our support. They sometimes start from nothing, but end up giving concrete input to their own lives.”
In 2015 and 2016 REAP consulted 934 clients and trained 1,438 new entrepreneurs in rural Nebraska. Sixty-three percent of clients were women, and 48 percent are Hispanic. Through initiative and support, REAP has helped create 463 jobs in 372 different businesses.
Its strong relationship with new immigrants is testified by the total of loans provided, 123, for an amount of $1,739,880. Plus 22 leveraged loans in the amount of $1,490,152.
These numbers have made REAP the leader in microenterprises and small business development and push it up to the top 10 of the micro-loan producers of the entire state of Nebraska.
THIS STORY WAS COMPILED BY STUDENTS FROM THE INTERNATIONAL UNIVERSITY OF LANGUAGES AND MEDIA FROM MILAN, ITALY.
Filippo graduated in Cooperation for International Development and has a Master’s Degree in Journalism. He is interested in International Relations and Social Media. His future is in social media strategy or in the international marketing field.
Noemi graduated in Science of Communication. She chose this Master Program because she wants to protect the environment and make the world a better place.
Christina graduated in International Relations and Politics, in Catania (Italy). She is very interested in issues such as sustainable development and multicultural environment. She is getting a Master’s Degree in Communication for International Relations, in Milan at IULM University of Language and Communication.