While everyone was talking about job creation in 2012, alt.Consulting created 202 new jobs in the Delta. (See Figure 1.) While everyone was hoping for an improvement in the economy in 2012, alt.Consulting created 21 new businesses and its clients added $32 million in new economic activity to the Midsouth region. In 2013, alt.Consulting celebrates 15 years of creating, growing and rebuilding small businesses, strengthening rural communities and low-wealth neighborhoods in Arkansas, west Tennessee and northern Mississippi.
As a not-for-profit economic development organization, alt.Consulting has provided intensive managerial assistance to more than 4,000 rural and minority businesses since 1998. In 2007, as the financial crisis was looming and clients were struggling to obtain capital, the company made the decision to become a lending organization. In 2010, alt.Consulting set out to create new, competitive entrepreneurial opportunities in rural communities by building wealth creation value chains around renewable energy and local foods. In 2011, the organization was certified by the U.S. Department of the Treasury as a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI). By utilizing managerial assistance to mitigate risk, alt.Consulting has been able to offer loans to small businesses that do not qualify for traditional financing, making $500,000 available in the form of 31 microloans with a loss rate of less than one percent. (See Table 1.) In 2012, the organization's average client engagement took 54 hours, with many entrepreneurs receiving in excess of 100 hours of on-site assistance. Today, alt.Consulting's team of 12 full-time professionals works with more than 300 businesses each year across five offices in the Arkansas-Mississippi Delta.
|Loans to African-American-owned businesses||58%|
|Loans to women-owned businesses||32%|
|Loans to rural-based businesses||74%|
|Loans to urban-based businesses||26%|
|Average loan size||$16,093|
During the past 15 years, alt.Consulting has observed continued outmigration from the Delta, increased poverty with average per capita income dropping to $17,000 and an average unemployment rate of 10.25 percent. (See Figures 2 and 3.) The majority of those living in the Delta have no net worth and few assets, and already low real estate values have plummeted. In all of this, alt.Consulting sees opportunity.
Every year, more mayors and community leaders embrace the fact that they need to create jobs locally by growing their entrepreneurial base. The Delta is rich in entrepreneurial spirit and individuals eager to create jobs for themselves. Organizations and communities are beginning to work together regionally to support economic development.
In this context, alt.Consulting set out to pursue a parallel strategy of working with rural communities in the Delta to implement entrepreneurship strategies, while continuing to provide direct services to entrepreneurs throughout the region. In communities with both elected and nonelected progressive leadership, the organization conducts an assessment of assets, resources, existing entrepreneurs and business opportunities. Local leaders working with alt.Consulting then develop an Entrepreneurship Plan for their communities. Depending on the needs and opportunities presented by the Community of Innovation, the company provides a combination of the following services and initiatives:
The backbone of each of these programs is alt.Consulting's intensive managerial assistance, which provides new and existing entrepreneurs with the tools and training they need to ensure their success.
alt.Consulting has been implementing each of these programs with individual entrepreneurs around the Delta for many years. Now the organization seeks to go deeper in communities that are prepared to provide the necessary connectedness and support to entrepreneurs. "Communities of Innovation" is not a certification program but rather a branding initiative for those towns and cities ready to embrace a new economic development strategy and "grow their own."
The first such community is DeWitt, Ark., in the heart of Arkansas County and the Delta. With a population base of 3,200, DeWitt has seen its share of business closures. The city's progressive mayor is working with the community college and alt.Consulting to implement the farm-to-fuel value chain as its starting point on the journey to a more vibrant entrepreneurial base. alt.Consulting is meeting with graduates of the community college about operating a microrefinery, starting a waste oil collection business, launching an agronomic services business focused on the new energy crop, and looking into the business of crushing the seed to create a highly nutritious feed and the oil needed by the refinery. Others in the community have approached alt.Consulting about trying the PopUp Shops initiative as a means to revitalize their beautiful town square.
In this community, residents are focused on the opportunities and not the otherwise depressing statistics that mark so many towns in the Delta. alt.Consulting is right there to support both the community leadership and the entrepreneurs who are ready to shape their future.
For more information about alt.Consulting and all of the initiatives described above, please visit our new website.