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Laying the legislative groundwork for stronger rural communities

The North Carolina State Budget was signed into law on November 18, 2021. Read the NC Rural Center’s official statement on the budget here.

In 2016, we launched our advocacy program, Rural Counts, in order to bring the voices and experiences of North Carolina’s rural people to legislators on Jones Street, all with the goal of informing, shaping, and advocating for policies that will help rural communities across the state meet their fullest potential.

In any given year, Rural Counts focuses on a core set of legislative priorities, which you can read more about here. In the last year, each of these priorities have been a focus of the advocacy team’s efforts, but we are highlighting the following legislative wins we’ve worked on that will help secure a more vibrant and resilient future for rural North Carolina.

Invest in robust entrepreneurship and small-business development systems

Small businesses are the heart of our rural communities. They employ our family, friends, and neighbors, and help give each rural crossroads its own unique identity. By advocating for policies that enrich North Carolina’s small-business ecosystem, we can ensure both the short- and long-term economic success of our state’s rural places.

The following pieces of legislation better support existing entrepreneurs by immediately expanding safe capital access, while also strengthening the sector and removing barriers for future unserved and underserved entrepreneurs. These legislative items also ensure that the resource and support network for small-businesses is strengthened to better serve a growing number of economically and demographically diverse entrepreneurs.

  • Small Business Truth in Financing (H969): This bill was introduced to ensure small-businesses owners looking to establish or grow businesses are provided clear disclosures, including annual percentage rate (APR), for each non-bank commercial financing option so that borrowers can easily understand the true cost. This bill also allows for apples-to-apples comparisons between financing offers by using standard language to disclose terms, fees, and conditions. While H969 was successfully introduced in the 2021 legislative session, we will continue to advocate for this legislation in the coming year.
  • Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs): The state budget allocates $5 million in nonrecurring funding to support a capacity-building grant program for Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs), which would be managed by the NC Rural Center. Such funding allows CDFIs across the state to ensure that small business owners have access to the capital they need. With this infusion of funding, CDFIs can expand their operations and reach more entrepreneurs currently underserved in the lending marketplace. This is especially critical now as CDFIs anticipate increased demand as they fill the void created by a contraction of traditional business lenders.
  • State Small Business Credit Initiative (SSBCI): The state budget allocates $120.5 million in nonrecurring funding for the State Small Business Credit Initiative 2.0, to be managed by the Rural Center. This investment in small businesses can be capitalized up to $300 million based upon the Center’s ability to access performance-based funds, thus linking entrepreneurial startups and small businesses to the critical commercial capital they need to grow, thrive, and survive.

Expand accessible and affordable high-speed broadband

The pandemic underscored the need for communities to have access to broadband–not just for work, but for education, health care delivery, and business needs. The following legislative action addresses those needs, as well as immediately helps communities navigate the existing digital divide, while also ensuring rural North Carolina has the infrastructure needed to meet the demands of a digital society and a global marketplace.

  • Budget Allocations for Broadband Support Programs: The state budget expands funding for programs like the Growing Rural Economies with Access to Technology (GREAT) program and the Completing Access to Broadband (CAB) Program to ultimately connect rural areas, as well as other unserved and underserved households across the state to broadband infrastructure. The budget also funds mapping to create and maintain maps that visualize statewide broadband distribution and accessibility to determine broadband strengths and needs, as well as allocate funding to increase awareness of community-based, digital literacy offerings.

Accelerate modernization of rural water and wastewater infrastructure

The following legislative item immediately works on a longstanding need in rural communities by improving infrastructure and quality now to ensure that rural communities can sustain themselves long-term while also meeting the challenges of environmental hazards like flooding.

  • Budget Allocations for Water and Wastewater Support: The state budget funds grant programs used for water and sewer utilities including infrastructure needs, asset inventory needs, and technical assistance needs. A portion of the funding is also allocated to support the revitalization of water and wastewater systems designated as “distressed” or “at risk of becoming distressed.” Additional funding is also allocated for stormwater infrastructure projects that address water quality and/or quantity. This is the largest investment of public funds for water and wastewater systems since the Clean Water Bonds of the 1990s.

By advancing sound public policy that strategically and sustainably addresses community challenges, our rural people and our state’s legislators are laying the groundwork for a more resilient North Carolina that will thrive today, tomorrow, and for all the years to come.

For more information about legislation we are following in the North Carolina General Assembly, check out our legislative tracker tool.