Reimagining Rural America
By Michael McLaughlin (MBA’15)
“…most people think of ranching in a romantic light, but I don’t see it that way. I’m not a cowboy, I run a business.” – April Bonds
When April Bonds, a 2013 MBA graduate of the McDonough School of Business (MSB) who comes from a family of ranchers in Texas heard about the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) and the GSEI’s partnership to strengthen rural America, she couldn’t have been more thrilled. “I always thought of myself as a strategic board member of the family business, not someone who would be involved in the day to day operations. That has changed. Developing rural entrepreneurship is a cause tied directly to the continued success of not only my family’s ranching business, but the ranching community as a whole.”
The AFBF partnership with Georgetown University is an opportunity to give the community the megaphone they need to bring attention to the problems they face. “I didn’t plan to come back to the ranching business after I graduated because I mistakenly thought my interest in business and policy wouldn’t be fulfilled by the work,” explained Ms. Bonds. “I think most people think of ranching in a romantic light but I don’t see it that way. I’m not a cowboy, I run a business.” She is currently in line to take over the family business from her father and sees many opportunities to expand progressive business practices in the industry.
The challenges facing the farming and ranching communities in the United States are many. Economic development has halted in many areas after decades-long migration from the rural communities left remaining businesses in search of employees and customers. As this trend continued, many communities are left with a failing education system and rampant poverty and drug use. One of the most important improvements the partnership can foster is changing urban America’s view of the rural community as one full of real economic assets. “It’s about mindset and marketing. We need to explain ourselves much more clearly to the outside world and rebrand,” said Ms. Bonds. How ranchers and farmers perceive themselves is also important. They would benefit from viewing their skills as something that can be applied to business in general, like running a restaurant or a retail store.
The public’s view of rural America is important, but so is that of the government. Ms. Bonds credits MSB with helping her tell her story better and thinks they can do the same thing for rural entrepreneurs. She sees the government’s role in renewing the rural community as one focused on improving education to give business owners access to an employable workforce. The AFBF-GSEI partnership’s task will be to empower people with business ideas to make them happen. “Would-be entrepreneurs only need a vehicle for creativity and a fundamental business education to improve economic conditions for themselves and their communities,” she said.
Ms. Bonds believes her future is as a voice for the rural community while she develops her role at her family’s ranch. “The issues facing the farming community are important to the entire United States and the rest of the world. We have to double food production in the next twenty years and we can’t do that without support. There are many opportunities here for entrepreneurs and investors and the AFBF-GSEI partnership will be the catalyst for creating a bright future for rural America.”