The fruits of the economy they helped save

During the depths of the Great Recession, when large banks were receiving bailouts and multi-national companies were closing stores, small business owners in our region did the opposite -- they stayed and kept fighting. During the darkest days, they tightened their belts and continued to work hard to provide goods and services to their neighbors and keep driving the local economy.

Today, as the national economy begins to turn around and more workers across our region finally obtain the jobs they so desperately want, it is about time we helped those very same small business owners reap the fruits of the economy they helped save.

The easiest way to accomplish that goal is by helping entrepreneurs access affordable capital to start or expand businesses, especially in the chronically underserved and undercapitalized rural areas of the Mississippi River Delta region.

Let's be clear: our rural small business owners need greater access to affordable capital. Of the $1.24 billion invested through the U.S. Department of Treasury's Community Development Financial Institutions in the Delta region from 2003-2012, a mere 20 percent -- $251 million -- was directed to small businesses through micro-loans. And only 40 percent of those loans was invested in enterprises in rural counties and parishes. Lending institutions rooted in our rural communities, such as First State Bank and Trust, or centers, such as the Greene Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Southeast Missouri State University, do a great job to support some of these businesses, but they need more resources.

We must transform this reality to help our small businesses and rural economies.

The Delta Regional Authority is leading efforts to drive investment into our region. Together with our federal partners, we helped to develop the Delta Community Capital Initiative, which aggregates diverse sources of capital and channels it to community lending organizations in rural Delta counties and parishes. I am encouraged to see the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development lead the effort in funding this important program with support from the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Rural Development and CDFI.

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