The Rural Entrepreneur Network identifies, trains, and nurtures rural entrepreneurs and potential alliances who want to start up a new business or are in the early stages of a new business.
REN is a not-for-profit organization established in 2005 by the Hoosier Heartland Resource Conservation and Development Council, Inc. REN, formerly known as the Farmers Alliance Network (or FAN), is a project that has been made possible by the generous funding and technical assistance from the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs, the Indiana Rural Development Council, Inc., the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, and Hoosier Energy.
REN is a rural economic development program that helps individuals and families in Central Indiana with starting a business or enhancing an existing small business. REN provides education, nurturing, and networking opportunities to entrepreneurs.
REN serves the Hoosier Heartland counties of Boone, Brown, Hamilton, Hancock, Hendricks, Johnson, Marion, Monroe, Morgan, and Shelby. Recently, REN has expanded into 18 or more new counties which include: Bartholomew, Clay, Decatur , Fountain, Greene, Jackson , Jennings , Lawrence , Madison , Montgomery , Orange , Owen, Parke, Putnam, Sullivan, Vermillion, Vigo , and Washington (view map).
REN works through partnerships built at the local level with Soil and Water Conservation Districts , County Extension Service Offices, Rural Energy Cooperatives, Resource Conservation and Development Councils, County Commissioners , Small Business Development Centers , Economic Development and Regional Planning Commissions, Community Foundations , and Chambers of Commerce. We also work with many state and federal agencies that provide funding support and technical assistance to the project. These agencies include the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs, Indiana Rural Development Council , USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service , USDA Rural Development , Purdue University , and Indiana Cooperative Development Center.
The Rural Entrepreneur Network is headquartered at the Hoosier Heartland Resource Conservation & Development Council's office in Indianapolis . Hoosier Heartland Resource Conservation and Development (RC&D) Program is an exciting partnership between the federal government and a local nonprofit organization led by local community leaders. Our objectives focus on improving the quality of life achieved through natural resources conservation and community development. This leads to sustainable communities, prudent use (development), and managing and conserving natural resources within this region.
Back to the top
• Outreach to individuals and families in rural areas who want to start or enhance a business
• Entrepreneurial training to build business skills and knowledge
• Networking and development opportunities through small, informal group gatherings
• Expansion into new areas in Central Indiana
• To build and sustain partnerships
• To provide one-on-one counseling to rural entrepreneurs
• To promote and share the concept of rural entrepreneurship
REN identifies possible rural businesses for consideration. Further, REN can help determine if a person has entrepreneurial characteristics by demonstrating what it takes to start and run a business. Additionally, REN provides education and training in planning for a business, what to expect when starting a business, how to operate a new rural business, and offers resources to help start a business.
With many jobs in Indiana going out of state or offshore, operating a rural business allows entrepreneurs to continue to enjoy a rural lifestyle, while strengthening roots in the rural community. If the family chooses to control the rural business, it can be handed down to the next generation to further sustain the rural lifestyle.
REN also nurtures and supports rural alliances and groups of people in their communities, providing opportunities for economic development in areas that are often overlooked.
REN started out small, serving ten Central Indiana counties associated with the Hoosier Heartland Resource & Conservation Development Council, Inc. area. In 2007, we expanded to a broader area that now includes 28 or more counties, many of which tend to be more rural.
Back to the top
Jim Roudebush, REN Director
Rebecca Fletcher , RC&D Coordinator
Cathy Deal, RC&D Program Assistant
Mandy Nyhuis, REN Marketing Assistant
The Rural Entrepreneur Network (REN) Director, Jim Roudebush, is a business entrepreneur from Central Indiana with a rural background. He has an MBA in Marketing. Jim is the owner of two successful Indiana small businesses. He currently serves as adjunct professor and lecturer on a variety of business topics at colleges/universities in the area.
Back to the top
Throughout Central Indiana , 90% of farm families augment their income by working off-the-farm at jobs in factories, discount stores, and gas stations. Globalization creates a new imperative – to be the low cost producer. The consolidation of commodity crops by large producers empties the landscape and narrows opportunity. Acres of housing developments have and continue to displace the traditional way of life as well as removing thousands of acres of prime farmland. In a diminished agricultural environment, those who are left to farm find it harder and harder to keep up with the rising costs and physical efforts of maintaining the family farm. Children and grandchildren are leaving the farm and community to pursue better opportunities.
“Farmers on the Fringe” – that unique area between true rural communities and the heavily developed urban zones that have spread throughout Central Indiana and the residents who must adapt to this new way of life. They are seeking alternative business practices and developing new product opportunities that will allow for greater diversity and an entrance into niches not filled locally.
There are three models for innovation: value-added agriculture, consumer product marketing, and high-value marketing. The Hoosier Heartland Resource Conservation and Development Council and our partnering organizations have been working to help farmers to make this transition to new enterprises that use their resources and improve their profit margin.
What has been the downfall of these farmers could be utilized to a much greater extent as a source for building an even stronger economy. There is no question that locally grown produce and specialty crops and meats are highly prized by restaurants and food stores (value-added marketing). Many suburban and urban dwellers are eager to patronize the farm stand down the road, where fresh and healthy produce can be purchased. Tourists out for a Sunday drive enjoying the fall colors will consistently stop for clusters of bittersweet, decorative gourds or pumpkins, and colorful wreaths (consumer product marketing). However, the thought of changing to pharmaceutical or nutraceutical crops involving a high degree of business coordination is hardly considered (high-value product marketing).
The drawback is that families have little experience in considering new products and reaching new markets. Alternative enterprise families must evaluate new and changing markets, seek ways to transport their products to these new buyers, take advantage of seasonal waves of visitors, and advertise to a diverse group of potential buyers. This offers a whole new layer of activities that are not only new to the farm or rural family, but are extremely daunting or time-consuming when coupled with existing farm work and the non-farm occupation.
This is where a program such as the Rural Entrepreneur Network becomes so important. REN allows entrepreneurs and farm families to use as a source of economic growth, the very factors that caused the loss of farmland, the blight in small town centers, and the rush of former customers to mass produced and mass distributed merchandise.
The many support businesses that these new enterprises need will also benefit. Rural trucking and excavating companies, engine repair shops, local banks, and cafés are in the same situation as farmers. They have been overwhelmed by competition. They all stand to gain by helping each other as well as using the strength of numbers to thrive in a competitive world. Competitors can often ban together as allies to become a stronger force in the marketplace.
By supporting REN, the Hoosier Heartland Resource Conservation & Development Council and our many partners hope to stem the economic deterioration and form networks and enterprises of positive economic impact in rural areas. REN provides an important organizational mechanism to help rural communities and businesses in Central Indiana take advantage of the urbanization that has been a negative force and turn it into an economic positive.
REN would not be possible without the monetary support from the following groups:
• The Indiana
Office of Community and Rural Affairs
• Indiana Rural Development Council, Inc.
• Hoosier Energy, Inc.
• USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service
Our sponsors and partners are committed to the success of REN. Our partners play a key role in helping us to develop, promote, or sponsor programs or provide technical services. Several partners provide representatives that serve as members of our steering committee or advisory committee. Others provide technical or administrative support that enables us to conduct workshops, connect with individuals or families, promote our services, etc.
• Purdue University Extension
• Purdue Center for Regional Development
• Purdue New Ventures
• Soil and Water Conservation Districts
• Indiana Cooperative Development Center, Inc.
• USDA Rural Development
• Indiana’s Small Business Development Centers
• The White River RC&D Council, Inc.
• The Sycamore Trails RC&D Council, Inc.
• Indiana Rise 2020 Members
• Economic Development Groups
• County Commissioners (in Hoosier Heartland counties).
Back to the top
A steering committee supervises the REN director and oversees the program. They set major goals for the project and ensure that all activities are tied directly to achieving the project's mission. Accomplishment reports are prepared monthly. Another major duty of this group is financial sustainability of the program.
Ed Heckman , Farmer, Hamilton County
John Ulmer , Watershed Education Specialist, Marion County SWCD and REN webmaster
Jon Cain , Agriculture and Natural Resources Educator, Hendricks County Extension
Julia Wickard , Executive Vice President, Indiana Beef Cattle Association
Mandy Nyhuis, Marketing Assistant, Rural Entrepreneur Network
Paula Baldwin, President, Hoosier Heartland RC&D Council, Inc. and Steering Committee Chair
Rebecca Fletcher , RC&D Coordinator, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service
Roy W. Ballard, Agriculture and Natural Resources Educator, Hancock County Extension
Warren Waymire , Supervisor, Morgan County Soil and Water Conservation District
Back to the top
The advisory board is made up of statewide agencies and groups that have an interest in furthering the reach of rural entrepreneurial education and support in Indiana .
Angela Runshe, District Conservationist, Boone County SWCD and Hamilton County SWCD
Bill Harting, District Conservationist, Shelby County SWCD
Bill Rice, Agriculture and Natural Resources Educator, Hamilton County Extensio n
Bob White, State Executive Director, USDA Rural Development
Brook Rieman, District Conservationist, Monroe County SWCD and Brown County SWCD
Carla Allen, Education Specialist, Morgan County SWCD
Cathy Paradise, SWCD Coordinator, Brown County SWCD
Chad Martindale, Manager, Member & Key Accounts, Hoosier Energy
Charles Hibberd, Director, Purdue Cooperative Extension
Cindy Beckner, SWCD Admin/Education Coordinator, Hancock County SWCD
Don Koverman, Senior Associate, Center for Regional Development
Glenn Lange, SWCD Resource Conservationist, Marion County SWCD
Henry Wallis, District Conservationist, Marion County SWCD and Hendricks County SWCD
Jay Tranbarger, SWCD Resource Conservationist, Boone County SWCD
Jerry Hay, Cooperative Development Specialist, USDA Rural Development
Jerry Lish, District Conservationist, Lawrence County SWCD
Jerry Nelson, Director, Purdue New Ventures
Jessica Norcross, SWCD Resource Conservationist, Hendricks County SWCD
Jill Williams, District Administrator, Shelby County SWCD
John South, SWCD Conservation Engineer, Hamilton County SWCD
June Snyder, Administrative Assistant, Morgan County SWCD
Kathy Haste, SWCD Assistant Director, Johnson County SWCD
Mark Eastman, RC&D Coordinator, Greater Wabash RC&D
Mark McCauley, SWCD Resource Conservationist, Hamilton County SWCD
Marlene Raisor, SWCD Office Manager, Hendricks County SWCD
Martha Miller, SWCD District Coordinator, Monroe County SWCD
Maryjane Deel, RC&D Assistant, White River RC&D
Michelle Phillips, Program Assistant, Sycamore Trails RC&D
Phil Anderson, Executive Director, Indiana Rural Development Council, Inc.
R.M. Rampley Senior Vice President, Hoosier Energy
Randy Haymaker, Director of Public Affairs, Hoosier Energy
Ric Schlosser, Director, Johnson County SWCD
Ron Lauster, Director/SWCD Resource Conservationist, Marion County SWCD
Sam Cordes, Co-Director, Center for Regional Development and Assistant Director and Program Leader, Leadership and Community Development , Purdue University
Shaena Smith, SWCD Urban Conservationist, Hamilton County SWCD
Sheryl Vaughn, Administrative Assistant, Boone County SWCD
Susan Meadows, RC&D Coordinator, Sycamore Trails RC&D
Tony Branam, District Conservationist, Morgan County SWCD and Johnson County SWCD
REN has assisted hundreds of rural entrepreneurs to improve their skills and information base through one-on-one meetings, workshops, presentations at major annual meetings, phone contacts, rural entrepreneur nurturing meetings, etc. A significant and growing portion of REN work is in one-on-one counseling and community engagement.
REN has established a strong network of partners to leverage its effectiveness. Our partners are key to the success of this project and include groups from all over Indiana that are interested in helping entrepreneurs.
REN has become a recognized source of rural economic support in Central Indiana and beyond for rural entrepreneurs and alliances. One example is REN's Future Rural Entrepreneur Development Group (FRED), a group of over 100 members who receive regular communications from the REN Director, as well as other information and training in skills necessary to begin or improve their rural start-up businesses. REN is very interested in youth entrepreneurs and has conducted several initiatives for young people in the area, such as 4-H Fairs and the Indiana Farm Bureau Young Farmer Conference.
The REN Director is a member of the Cooperative Enterprise Network (CEN) of the Indiana Cooperative Development Center (ICDC). We believe this partnership will lead to more success for the ICDC in that we are a conduit for the necessary networking that leads to the development of successful cooperatives and alliances.
REN helped to formally organize the Indiana Shrimp Farmers Alliance. REN has led organizational meetings, media relations, trips to shrimp and trout farms, and has provided other types of organizational support. We have provided assistance for an annual shrimp launch and harvest festival in Morgan County. REN has worked with Purdue Extension Aquaculture Team, Morgan County SWCD, Morgan County Extension, and Martinsville Chamber of Commerce to hold two Freshwater Prawn Conferences in Morgan County.
REN works to promote agri-tourism efforts in Indiana. Recently, we partnered with the Indiana State Department of Agriculture and other RC&Ds in the State on a Sustainable Agriculture Resource and Education Project to produce a resource directory and hold agri-tourism workshops throughout the State. We have also worked directly with local agri-tourism business owners in Indiana to help them with institutional issues and opportunities.
REN has achieved over two million impressions in Indiana newspapers with an organized and systematic media relations program, featuring news events and offerings of REN. We have also had success with radio coverage. Within a three-year timeframe, REN's awareness as a major source of rural entrepreneur development and training has been significant.
Back to the top
The Rural Entrepreneur Network Office is located at 6041 Lakeside Boulevard , Indianapolis , IN 46278 , at the I-465 and W. 71 st Street exit on the northwest side of Indianapolis . Please click on the map provided (available in PDF format) for directions.
Back to the top