(Washington, DC) – Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), the lead Democrat on the U.S. Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, today delivered the following opening statement at a hearing on “The Challenges and Opportunities of Running a Small Business in Rural America.”

(As prepared for delivery)

Thank you, Chairman Risch, for holding this important hearing.

I’d like to take a moment to welcome Rob Riley, President of the Northern Forest Center, who traveled from his home in Canterbury, New Hampshire to be with us today. 

Small businesses are the backbone of rural communities in New Hampshire and across the country.  Their ability to grow is key to the economic well-being and job creation of rural America.

I saw an example of the importance of small businesses in rural areas just this past week, when I visited Costa Precision Manufacturing, a small business that makes machine components in Claremont, New Hampshire. 

Claremont is an example of a rural community that has been struggling to find its economic footing in recent years.  When a small company like Costa – with just 32 employees – is poised for growth, it can have a huge impact on the community. 

Small businesses in rural communities face a unique set of challenges that can stand in the way of their success.  For example:

Rural firms often have a tougher time getting access to credit, making it harder to fuel their growth.

They may be located far from major infrastructure like highways or ports, making it more difficult for their goods to reach customers – a competitive disadvantage in an on-demand, global economy.

Broadband and wireless coverage can be spotty or unreliable – something we’re all too familiar with in New Hampshire.

And finally, one of the top concerns I hear from small business owners in New Hampshire is their challenge finding or attracting workers with the right skills.

As members of this Committee know, the Great Recession took a huge toll on small businesses, and they have been slower to recover than large firms.  Small business lending – a key indicator of the health of small companies – plummeted during the Great Recession and has not fully recovered to pre-recession lending levels.

Considering the importance of small businesses to the economic health of America’s rural communities, it’s no surprise that this economic recovery has not delivered for rural Americans.  When small businesses aren’t growing, rural communities feel the impact. 

This uneven recovery has posed serious challenges for rural communities who are struggling to keep pace in a global economy, attract investment and create job opportunities for our constituents.  The key to unlocking the economic potential of rural America is to help small businesses with deep roots in these communities grow and create jobs.

That’s why I was disappointed to see that a number of critical programs – which help rural communities build infrastructure, boost small business lending and meet other needs – were targeted for elimination or cuts in the President’s budget.  A recent report by the Senate Agriculture Committee’s Minority Staff noted that the President’s budget proposed elimination of programs that helped finance more than 107,000 businesses and created 800,000 jobs since 2009.

That doesn’t make sense.  Especially not now.  The federal government cannot turn its back on rural communities.  Instead, we should build on successful efforts and find new, common-sense ways to support rural small businesses.

For example, the company that I mentioned at the outset of my remarks – Costa Precision Manufacturing – intends to add more employees as a result of qualifying as a HUBZone, an SBA program designed to help small businesses in distressed areas compete for federal contracts.

There are approximately 200 businesses in the United States with similar certifications as Costa, but the HUBZone designation is setting the company apart.  It is one of just six companies in the United States in its industry with HUBZone status.  It has been a game-changer for the company and its local community.

Yesterday, I introduced legislation to enable America’s governors, along with local economic development officials, to petition the SBA so that more rural areas qualify for the program.

I hope that this Committee will be able to identify more common-sense, bipartisan solutions for rural communities.

I look forward to hearing from our witnesses today about unique challenges that rural small businesses face – and what we can do to help them compete on a level playing field so that rural communities across the country can reach their full potential, create jobs and participate in our economic growth.