How a Missouri Community Stimulates Rural Entrepreneurship

How a Missouri Community Stimulates Rural Entrepreneurship

“My ultimate hope is this: That this work helps to change our idea of what’s possible here.”

New Growth and Patty Cantrell are creating a huge difference in the West Central region of Missouri by not only making rural entrepreneurship visible and accessible, but by also dedicating themselves to help business owners and entrepreneurs grow their businesses by providing easy access to resources, marketing and outreach.

A true community, indeed.

Osceola, Missouri, is located in St. Clair County, where the Ozarks meets the plains and is home to New Growth’s office. Established as early trading posts, many rural areas have history in small business and entrepreneurship. However, the decline of self-employment in rural areas, the rise of urban migration and, to top it off, the economic hit of the 2008 recession—all of these factors have hit entrepreneurship in rural communities especially hard. 

New Growth is working with communities and other organizations to reinvigorate the local and regional economy. They focus on three market opportunities that the region can use to stimulate business and community growth: Tourism, local food and agriculture, and people who want to live in rural places.

For background, New Growth is a regional community development organization that was started a little over a year and a half ago by its big sister organization, West Central Missouri Community Action Agency. While the agency tackles direct assistance for people and families in the west central Missouri region, New Growth was tasked with supporting the region with its entrepreneurs and workforce. Heading up the charge as community wealth-building director is Patty Cantrell.

“We think of ‘wealth’ not just in terms of financial wealth, but all diverse types of capital that we have in our communities: Cultural capital, natural capital, human capital, all the beautiful places and our agriculture” says Patty. “How can we build on that? My job is to scope out and work with others on how do we build wealth, how we build those assets, in our communities.”

Asset building is a broad concept. Patty defines it as taking an assessment of what’s already available in the community and working to expand on those assets by connecting them with market, entrepreneurship and regional development planning opportunities. Working with partners like the Kaysinger Basin Regional Planning Commission, New Growth addresses the economic challenges that rural cities experience.

When is the last time you stopped (and shopped) in a rural town?

A problem facing rural towns is that commuters and other state residents drive straight through, not stopping in to shop local businesses or visit local attractions, such as cultural events and historic sites.

New Growth is working on a project called Make Rural Visible, a strategic effort to bring awareness to the benefits of living, building and shopping in rural areas. To build awareness and attract customers, however, requires really great marketing, something that is a struggle for most business owners, and especially for those in off-the-beaten path rural areas.

To provide entrepreneurs with a no-cost marketing opportunity, New Growth has entered into a collaboration with a new app called LocalAnyDay. The app allows users to search for local businesses they can support while they’re driving through smaller towns.. For consumers, it’s a great way to direct their dollars to local entrepreneurs and business owners. For businesses, the app gives them a cost-effective way to reach hundreds of people as they make shopping decisions while they’re road hungry or need to stretch their legs. So far, New Growth is testing the app in St. Clair and Cedar counties.

Another part of Making Rural Visible is working with to tell the stories of rural cities through content and website collaboration.The tourism site will serve as a resource and searchable repository of information for visitors and tourists to explore what’s in the area.

Who are the farmers in “farmer’s market”?

“We’ve seen a recent agriculture census that showed that about 30 percent of our farms are actually newer farms and we have a lot of fruits and vegetables here. We have a great agriculture backbone and there’s demand for our products,” says Patty.

Meeting that demand, however, requires building new supply chains for moving locally produced foods, to buyers in Kansas City (100 miles away), as well as the rural region. New Growth and partners are working on building connections with buyers, engaging distributors, and supporting farms in producing for the local food market.

Part of that is just creating awareness and a community entrepreneurs working together. To do that, New Growth and partners recently facilitated an event called the Farm to Fork Summit, and plans a second summit in February 2020. This year local farmers, buyers, suppliers and other organizations filled up a gymnasium to learn and connect. The event will be an annual occurrence to continue this connection.

Want to start a business in a rural area?

Knowing that collaboration and partnership are keys to community success, Patty is working on Start Here, a new business accelerator that has come to fruition through five organizations, each with a specific role. (We here at MOSourceLink will also be involved to support the accelerator with access to resources for aspiring entrepreneurs and established businesses.)

“Our specific role with Start Here will be the convener and the communicator. We’ve been working with these partners already and now we are focusing on convening methodically and systematically identifying all the resources we have in this region and connecting people to them. That’s where we’ve identified this partnership with MOSourceLink to be really key so that we can load more local resources into The Resource Navigator® and connect everyone to the resources that are available to them, locally and across the state.”

Addressing big issues that drag down rural economies and their entrepreneurs is another focus of New Growth. It is working with the Missouri Rural Health Association, for example, to build rural transportation solutions. Their goal is to bring a ride scheduling system called HealthTran to the region, which will support elders and others of the community with access to healthcare. Getting more people to their appointments can help rural healthcare with patient flow and reducing higher cost care when people are not able to get to preventative and follow up visits due to transportation hurdles.

With all these outstanding projects, Patty and New Growth have full faith in their community and are doing the work to be an excellent resource for its entrepreneurs.

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