It seems like nearly every day there’s a news story or statistic proclaiming Idaho as one of the best places to live, raise a family, and grow a business. Idaho is all those things and more, and people across the country are taking notice.
Just this past August, Idaho received an ‘A’ rating in small business friendliness from Thumbtack, and in a new study from American Express, Idaho earned a spot in the Top Five for “economic clout” of women-run businesses, defined as an increase in the number of women-owned firms and their growth in employment and revenue.
Women small business owners in the Gem State are driving much of the innovation and economic growth we have experienced over the past decade. But apart from the thriving business communities in Idaho’s urban hubs, we have countless women entrepreneurs in the rural reaches of our state who are outperforming expectations. They are the ones making Idaho the success story that it is.
Last week, I had the opportunity to partner with the National Women’s Business Council and meet some of these women from the Idaho business community for a Rural Women’s Business roundtable. The roundtable, which was hosted at the new Nampa Women’s Business Center, drew women entrepreneurs from across the state, with participants traveling from as far as Moscow and Filer.
Their challenges with starting and growing a small business often paralleled one another’s. Being in Idaho, they told me, they have to work harder to access capital to grow their businesses, sometimes traveling to neighboring states to secure startup funding.
Patchy internet access also poses a challenge, with many rural parts of the state lacking an adequate broadband connection to conduct ecommerce. On top of this, the difficulty of finding and hiring qualified workers – something all small businesses struggle with – is particularly acute for women running businesses in rural parts of the state.
We should all be committed to helping these small business owners and entrepreneurs address these issues. We are actively working to encourage eligible members of Idaho’s business community to host a Small Business Investment Company (a program that helps fill funding gaps for small businesses), and I recently introduced legislation to streamline and better manage the SBIC application to potentially increase funding streams for emerging businesses. To address the challenges of effective rural broadband, I’m advocating for grants that will offset the high cost of deploying broadband to underserved communities. And while hiring continues to pose a challenge to Idaho businesses, I will work with my colleagues in the state to ensure Idaho attracts and maintains a broad and qualified workforce.
Idaho’s success is no coincidence. We understand the importance of keeping the government out of the way so that businesses, families and workers can thrive. Last week’s conversation underscored the tenacity and spirit of Idaho’s business community, and it gave me great hope for the future of Idaho. I applaud the women business owners I had the privilege of meeting, and look forward to watching their continued progress and success.
Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, has been a U.S. Senator since 2009.