Edward Haddock recognizes that Arkansas is booming in urban regions of the state and busting in non-urban areas. As the director of the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Arkansas district office, he hopes to reverse rural Arkansas’ fortunes.

“I think our towns have a lot of space to be creative and develop the future of what they want to be,” Haddock said on this week’s edition of Talk Business & Politics.

Census data shows that in 2017 more than half of Arkansas’ job growth came from seven of Arkansas’ 75 counties: Benton, Craighead, Faulkner, Pulaski, Saline, Sebastian, and Washington. Haddock said small businesses – not major manufacturers – will be key to broadening economic prosperity in many of the 68 other counties.

“We have to understand the value that the small businesses play in our communities,” he said. “Generally, we’ve seen an ‘attraction’ economy. An ‘attract and incentivize’ type of economic development strategy. And until we move away from that for our smaller towns, most of these towns I visit with, they’re never going to get a major manufacturing plant. The likelihood of that is just very low, so until they can grab their own destiny and use small businesses in order to create that vibrancy in their downtowns and their economies, they’re really always going to be relying on that either economic development agency to really incentivize and attract these companies out there.”

Haddock said underbanked Arkansans are a big problem, but his agency and other partners can work to close gaps.

“We’ve rolled out a new program nationally called ‘Lender Match,’ and it’s a great opportunity for our rural communities to get online and get into national banking systems and SBA lenders that aren’t only community banks here in Arkansas. So they’re able to take on more risk and they have different industry expertise so we can get more deals through an online platform. Increasing competitiveness and access for our rural entrepreneurs is going to be a component of that as we move forward,” Haddock said.

The Arkansas SBA office is in the midst of a road trip over the next several months aiming at holding town halls and meetings with entrepreneurs and small businesses in rural Arkansas. The effort is aimed at explaining programs and options that exist but are being underutilized as well to listen to entrepreneurs for ideas on ways to assist expansion.

You can watch Haddock’s full interview below.

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