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How the NC Rural Center Created a Local Policy Roadmap

Since the NC Rural Center opened its doors in 1987, the organization has made great strides on behalf of local entrepreneurs. Starting with a microenterprise lending program that began in 1989, the Center has evolved to house multiple lending programs including a subsidiary CDFI, Thread Capital, and CornerSquare Community Capital, which supports a regional network of partner CDFIs.

Most recently, the Center has aimed to elevate and support the voices of entrepreneurs and small business owners in the policy process through the creation of North Carolina’s New Small Business Plan, which sets out detailed policy recommendations specific to the needs of North Carolina’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. The process has inspired the North Carolina Small Business Coalition, a 370 member-strong (and growing) coalition that organizes and advocates for entrepreneurship-centric issues in the state.

For others looking to put pen to paper on an entrepreneurship policy roadmap, the NC Rural Center offers four pieces of advice:

  • Give yourself a launching pad
  • Engage your neighbors and allies across your state
  • Leverage your partners’ relationships
  • Plan for ongoing engagement

1. Give yourself a launching pad    

“ANBP provided us a well-vetted roadmap to create our own policy plan that became a key organizing tool for engaging task force and coalition members.”  

Brandy Bynum Dawson, senior director of policy and advocacy, NC Rural Center

As a framework for North Carolina’s New Small Business Plan, the Rural Center looked to America’s New Business Plan (ANBP) — a national nonpartisan roadmap for policymakers created by the Kauffman Foundation — and organized around the plan’s four core pillars: opportunity, funding, knowledge, and support.

Using the ANBP framework, the Rural Center was able to convene a statewide task force of small business leaders and thought partners to work collaboratively on the development of a state specific policy agenda.

2. Engage your neighbors and allies across your state

With this foundational group in place, the Center assembled a diverse array of community leaders to inform and guide the creation of its policy plan.

“Throughout the plan’s development, we sought input from local leaders and allies to ensure representative and diverse perspectives and feedback were reflected,” said Brandy Bynum Dawson, senior director of policy and advocacy. It was an important step given the focus on creating a statewide plan in a “region with varying industries and economic priorities.”

In its final composition, the Center established the Small Business Policy Task Force, comprised of 18 members, alongside a group of 11 advisors to inform and ultimately disseminate the state-based policy plan. Beyond the task force, the advocacy team hosted entrepreneur focus groups in five regions across North Carolina, engaging 55 new and existing small business owners who represented a variety of sectors, business sizes, ages, revenue levels, genders, and demographics.

3. Leverage your partners’ relationships

With feedback from diverse stakeholders, the Center set out to launch North Carolina’s New Small Business Plan.

Acknowledging that in North Carolina, businesses with fewer than 50 employees make up 95 percent of business entities with more than one employee/proprietor, the Rural Center’s small business task force placed a special focus on these small businesses. Thus, the coalition in turn focused its efforts on connecting with small businesses and entrepreneurs who often have strong ties to local chambers of commerce, main street organizations, and local small-business centers.

“We leaned on our local and regional organizations and partners that have strong relationships with historically underserved populations, small businesses, and regional entrepreneurs to spread this plan across the state,” said Miles Kirksey, NC Rural Center’s advocacy engagement coordinator.

4. Plan for ongoing engagement

To maintain continued interest in advocacy work, the Center’s team releases a regular coalition newsletter featuring small business legislative updates, resources, funding opportunities, ways to plug in, and more.

These updates are aimed at educating coalition members and achieving greater buy-in, thus facilitating stronger engagement.

“We learned early that many small-business owners and entrepreneurs are hesitant to participate in policy advocacy due to a lack of experience,” Bynum Dawson said. “But when it comes down to it, these policies dictate the entrepreneurial ecosystem we all operate in, and we all can play a meaningful part in ensuring this ecosystem works for all small businesses in North Carolina.”

Make your local policy plan and take the Start Us Up Challenge.
For support on getting started here is a how-to guide.
You can also learn more about the NC Rural Center’s North Carolina’s New Small Business Plan.

The documents to which this page links are presented solely for educational purposes and are intended as examples of policy plans that may help you as you develop your own policy agenda. These documents have been created independently of Start Us Up. Start Us Up is not responsible for the content in those documents and any opinions, views and/or plans are not endorsed by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation or the Start Us Up coalition.

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