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Data from the last population census, held in 2000, showed that just under a fifth of the people in the U.S. (slightly over 55 million people) lived in rural areas defined as areas outside urbanized places—counties with a population of 50,000 or fewer—and the suburbs, if any, that surround them. Thus "rural," in the official definition, which is set by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget, means small towns and the countryside beyond these. Consequently, rural businesses are all those located in small towns and along the highways of the country well outside the metro centers.

Until 1920, a cross-over year, more people lived in rural areas than in cities. For city dwellers fighting commutes, bureaucracy, crowding, decay and bigness, life out on the farm or in small towns carries an aura of romance and of nostalgia. Traditional American value systems were shaped by our rural past and are in the process of transformation. In reflection of public sentiment, substantial efforts continue to be made by the federal and state governments to preserve the family farm and to foster life in rural areas by various support programs. For these reasons, perhaps, a certain sentimental flavor attaches to rural business activity—which happens not to be shared by the people actually engaged in such activities.