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University of Minnesota Extension

Supporting rural business succession

Rural communities get ready — a wave of retirements is coming

A silver tsunami of baby boomer retirements will sweep the nation in the coming years. Sixty percent of current small business owners were born before 1964, and during the next 17 years, a baby boomer business owner will turn 65 every 57 seconds.

Rural communities are especially concerned about retiring baby boomers who plan to sell their businesses. The health of small businesses is critical to rural economies. They not only provide jobs but also important goods and services needed for rural quality of life.

Beyond economic contribution, small businesses also play a crucial role in the civic and philanthropic life of rural communities. For small business owners in rural areas, the community is not just where they conduct business — it is also their home. The economic and civic structure of the community benefits from their success.

Communities can offer critical support to businesses

In 2016, Extension studied how small rural communities will keep businesses as a massive generational transfer of ownership and leadership occurs. We conducted our research to help communities understand what they can do to help business transfer succeed.

Our research indicates communities can offer critical support to businesses before and after a transition.

How can communities help?


About Extension's study

To examine rural business transfers, compile lessons learned, and hear what businesses recommend to communities that want to support them, Extension identified 690 Greater Minnesota cities with a population under 7,500. Then, the study team identified 358 businesses in those cities that had transitioned to new owners between 2008 and 2012.

A total of 176 businesses (49 percent) responded to a survey that was designed to learn about the business transfer experience – the struggles, the most helpful resources and the current status of the business in rural communities. Seven businesses were selected for in-depth interviews.

The team also conducted a literature review and interviewed the leaders of rural business succession initiatives in four rural Minnesota and two North Dakota communities.

Read a summary of findings

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