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Supercharging Arkansas’ Economy (Asahi Pompey Commentary)

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Arkansas means business. Titans of industry like Walmart, Tyson Foods and J.B. Hunt all call the Natural State home.

But in a state maybe best known for its big names, it’s the small businesses that are the backbone of Arkansas’ economy. They account for more than 99% of all businesses in the state and employ almost half of the state’s workforce, lifting up both urban and rural areas. Still, it’s no secret that rural small businesses face unique challenges constraining growth and competition.

At Goldman Sachs, we firmly believe that small-business success powers the country’s economic success — and we know that the best way to support small-business owners is to provide education and access to capital.

Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses initiative has helped more than 14,000 small-business owners across the country by providing access to education, capital and support services for nearly 15 years. Last month, we launched an expansion of the program — a $100 million Investment in Rural Communities. Beginning in Arkansas and North Dakota, the initiative will reach rural small-business owners in 20 states over the next five years.

Eighty-five percent of rural establishments are small businesses and those small businesses employ 54% of workers. But the challenges facing these small businesses are heightened — involving access to capital, skilled workforce shortages, retention and access to essential services. Rural entrepreneurs aren’t letting these challenges become permanent roadblocks to growth: 86% of rural small-business owners plan to grow their business, according to a recent Goldman Sachs survey.

With interest rates high and the Federal Reserve signaling that rates may stay “higher for longer,” access to capital is a priority. According to our data, 68% of rural entrepreneurs are concerned about their access to capital. More than two-thirds of rural small-business owners reported a concern about attracting workers, and more than 50% see a lack of local workforce training opportunities.

These challenges are all too familiar to Arkansas small-business owners. Samantha Stewart runs one of the first Black-owned pizzerias in Little Rock — Certified Pies — and recently opened her first brick-and-mortar location. She applied to 10,000 Small Businesses for help with workforce challenges, rising costs and access to capital. Ryan Byrd owns Just Peachy, an event and party decor company in Little Rock. He wants to grow his business and joined our program to gain knowledge and resources to overcome capital and talent challenges.

Through our investment, we are tackling needs head-on. Seventy-five million dollars will go to providing loans through community development financial institutions (CDFIs), driving capital into rural areas and into the hands of the local entrepreneurs who need it. We’re also committing $25 million to expand our best-in-class education program.

Goldman Sachs is committed to supporting small businesses in rural America. We have proven that 10,000 Small Businesses can be a power for small rural businesses. Of those we’ve already served, 72% have added jobs, 74% have increased revenue and 85% reported that they are more resilient.

Our 10,000 Small Businesses program is an investment, not only in small businesses but also in the resilience and health of our economy. Rural businesses are the lifeblood of rural economies and they bring vitality to local communities. By continuing to empower rural small businesses, we can look forward to a more prosperous future for everyone.

Asahi Pompey is Goldman Sachs’ global head of corporate engagement and president of the Goldman Sachs Foundation.
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