In 2005, the Northeast Center sponsored four one-day workshops as part of an effort to create a national rural entrepreneruship coalition. The listening sessions served to help launch the National Coalition for Rural Entrepreneurship, which builds on the momentum created by Kellogg's RFP on Entrepreneurship Development Systems for Rural America.

Summary of listening sessions

Presented by Mary Peabody for The Northeast Regional Center for Rural Development at the Nashville Listening Session Summit, Dec. 18-19, 2005

Goals of Listening Sessions

  • To find out what is working in terms of helping rural entrepreneurs become more productive, and how to make it work even better
  • Provide opportunities for participants to learn from one another and expand networks
  • Learn about promising practices, determine how to define and measure "success"
  • Develop an agenda for action locally, state-wide and regionally, and nationally


A total of five sessions were held between June 2005 and September 2005 covered the Northeast region.

  • Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont were combined in a session held at Concord, NH
  • New York session held in Syracuse, NY
  • Pennsylvania session held in State College, PA
  • West Virginia session held in Charleston, WV
  • Maryland session held in Annapolis, MD


There were between 20 and 30 individuals at each site from a broad variety of organizations. Participants included lenders, technical assistance providers, economic developers, business owners, educators, researchers and community development specialists.


The sessions shared the same participatory format with a few minor modifications. Participants were asked to reflect on what is currently working in their region/state; what would a future vision include; and what would be potential roles at local/state levels and federal levels; and what role could NERCRD play in attaining the vision.

Key Points of the Discussions

Summary of "What is currently working?" discussions:

  • We have outstanding market potential in the northeast
  • In many places, entrepreneurship is acknowledged as a viable economic development strategy
  • There is a lot of education, technical assistance, and funding opportunities available
  • Programs have become more responsive to the needs of entrepreneurs
  • Many passionate, committed leaders championing the entrepreneurship cause
  • Some powerful success stories
  • Growing emphasis of 'buy local' programs
  • Increasing awareness of the creative economy and its impact on economic development
  • Diversity of entrepreneur-types - small business, microbusiness, agriculture as well as lifestyle, growth, survival, and serial entrepreneurs

Summary of "What would the future vision include?" discussions:

  • Communication and coordination between/among programs strengthened
  • A 'culture of entrepreneurship' is promoted in local/state/federal policies
  • Entrepreneurship is integrated into the education system (K-12 and post-secondary)
  • Entrepreneurs are champions and advocates for themselves
  • Funding streams for technical assistance and loan programs are longer term, more flexible and come with fewer strings attached
  • Common benchmarks are identified to help programs measure success across different scales of business programs
  • Outcome indicators that address quality of life and community benefit are developed
  • Small-scale agriculture is included in rural entrepreneurship policy and discussion
  • Regional (multi-state) collaboration is easier and barriers are dismantled
  • Duplication of services is reduced
  • Competition for scarce resources is reduced
  • Insurance and regulations are affordable and available to all entrepreneurs
  • Reliable data tells the story of how entrepreneurs benefit rural communities
  • Programs are sensitive to needs of limited resource audiences, culturally sensitive
  • Programs services are available for non-English speakers
  • Creativity is encouraged
  • Mentors and peer-advisors are plentiful
  • Rural areas are seen as valued natural resources, separate from urban areas with unique needs

Summary of "What would be potential roles at local/state levels and federal levels?" discussions:

  • Revise regulations that place unfair burdens on entrepreneurs
  • Encourage collaboration among providers
  • Fund local initiatives
  • Keep entrepreneurship visible in economic development initiatives
  • Buy local campaigns - encourage consumers to support local businesses
  • Infrastructure - cell towers, incubators, etc.
  • Include entrepreneurship as a career opportunity in schools


  • Affordable healthcare for small business owners
  • Ensure that business insurance is available and affordable
  • Tax incentives for starting businesses
  • Lending programs that allow for higher risk startups
  • Encourage entrepreneurship curricula in K-12 standards

Summary of "What role could NERCRD and the land grant system play in attaining the vision?" discussions:

  • Help create a research agenda that will provide a true picture of entrepreneurship
  • Act as a clearinghouse for all the information available
  • Host conferences, training opportunities that get all the 'players' together
  • Provide training in use of technology
  • Offer a portal to existing programs
  • Help technical assistance providers evaluate their programs
  • Conduct research on consumer behavior, market trends, new products
  • Build multi-state collaborations and partnerships