Culp: rural small businesses face challenges including workforce and broadband

A declining population and workforce in rural communities is one of several challenges facing small businesses in those areas.

Kendell Culp, vice president of Indiana Farm Bureau, recently testified about this issue before the U.S. House Committee on Small Business.

“The 2020 Census showed that we’re really in pretty dire shape here in our rural communities across the United States. Fifty-three percent of counties in the U.S. ithe Census have lost population. That number exactly mirrors Indiana’s (population). Fifty-three percent, or in our case, 49 counties in the state lost population. When you lose population, you’re losing workforce and you’re losing tax base so jobs are leaving. When you lose population and you don’t have that number of folks and those families in your hometowns, then eventually businesses are going to follow and they’re going to leave as well,” he says. “It’s really important that we support that and put a floor underneath that. Those testifying were talking about the importance of those rural communities from an agricultural standpoint and a small business standpoint. I pointed out in my testimony that I’ve had small business owners in these rural communities tell me they know when the ag economy is good because farmers will spend money in their hometown and that helps support those Main Street businesses.”

Culp is an Indiana State Representative for District 16, which includes parts of Jasper, Pulaski, Starke, and White counties. He is a farmer in Jasper County and serves on the American Soybean Association Board of Directors.

Culp tells Brownfield that lawmakers could help rural communities by getting the 2023 Farm Bill across the finish line.

“A Small Business Committee of the House of Representatives in Congress took testimony on rural development issues and what’s important in our communities back home,” he says. “They were gathering information on that. I was interested in discussing the rural development title of the farm bill, and so I encouraged them that one thing that they could do is pass a farm bill before it expires Sept. 30. I don’t think it’s going to be on time, but hopefully it will be completed this year.”

Expanding access to reliable broadband in rural communities continues to be a priority.

“Especially if we’re going to have folks live in our communities and if we’re going to raise our families there,” he says. “We found out during the pandemic that our homes doubled up as a classroom, as a place of worship, as a doctor’s office and you need connectivity to do that. The other thing the pandemic did was it brought people home to work, so it was also our workplace and a lot of those businesses have retained that model. If you don’t have that access, then you can’t work from home and it’s very popular with some folks, especially younger families. If (broadband) is not available in that rural area, then you’re going to lose them, which means your schools, employment, and local businesses suffer.”

He says this will also help small businesses attract and maintain a strong workforce.

“In our hometown last year, we had two family businesses that closed. In both of those, the individuals retired. They were multi-generational businesses previously and, in both cases, the next generation did not want to move back to the hometown and take up that business. There could be a lot of reasons why that was the case, but we have to create an environment that’s conducive for family life. For those folks to want to come back home to want to pick up the family business and carry that forward we’ve got to be able to offer those quality of life amenities in our hometowns to be able to attract that,” he says.  

There is an interconnection between rural communities and agriculture and small businesses. Culp says several Small Business Committee members are also House Agriculture Committee members and are able to understand the importance of agriculture to rural communities and small businesses.

Jennifer Cassaday, owner of Byrd’s Pecan Delights, a small business in Missouri; Matt Splitter, the owner of a 10,000-acre farm in Kansas; and Josh Phillips, owner of Spawn Fly Fish is Washington also testified before the U.S. House Committee on Small Business.

Audio: Kendell Culp

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