The COVID-19 pandemic is more than just a health crisis, it is an economic crisis. The good news is many businesses have used available resources and creative solutions to remain operational during the pandemic.
Prior to the pandemic’s impact in North Carolina, Golden LEAF had been working with rural communities to support entrepreneurial activity.
In Robeson County, University of North Carolina at Pembroke’s Thomas Entrepreneurship Hub was awarded funding in phases by Golden LEAF to provide business support to area entrepreneurs. In 2012, Golden LEAF provided $200,000 to support renovations to the entrepreneurship incubator in downtown Pembroke.
In 2020, Golden LEAF awarded $480,000 to UNCP’s Thomas Entrepreneurship Hub to support a regional outreach effort through the Sandhills Entrepreneurship Engagement Network (SEEN). SEEN is helping expand the entrepreneurial incubator into the greater Sandhills region by providing entrepreneurs with a multitude of resources to build successful businesses. One of the main components of this program is a database that provides a comprehensive list of available resources throughout the 10-county region.
“We practice a culture of collaboration and partner with many entrepreneur support organizations including InnovateNC, NC Growth, NC Idea, EDPNC, SENC, Partners in Progress, Columbus Jobs Foundation, CiS, and each community college in the region,” said Thomas Hall, Executive Director, Thomas Family Center for Entrepreneurship, and Incubator at UNCP. “Since 2016, the UNCP entrepreneurship incubator has worked with 213 startups and helped create 147 jobs.”
This year, Golden LEAF also provided support to the Fayetteville State Innovation and Entrepreneurship Hub and the Columbus County Entrepreneurial and Business Development Center.
In March 2020, the Golden LEAF Foundation provided an initial $15 million to jump start the N.C. COVID-19 Rapid Recovery Loan Program and then worked with state leaders and the N.C. General Assembly to appropriate additional funds to support the program.
“Golden LEAF is proud to have helped support many N.C. small businesses through the pandemic,” said Hamilton. “While the funding and support is a conduit, the business owners are the ones making their business strategies successful. This is an important step in the economic recovery. Golden LEAF will continue to be a strong partner in supporting strategies to rebuild the state’s economy.”
To date, the N.C. COVID-19 Rapid Recovery Loan Program has helped provide 1,615 loans totaling more than $94 million to support 10,740 jobs at N.C. small businesses. The program has made 66 percent of its loans to minority- and women-owned businesses (Historically Underutilized Businesses).
One of the borrowers has a business in Black Mountain, N.C., an area that relies heavily on tourism. As COVID-19 started impacting the state, Black Mountain Bistro and Catering was immediately affected.
Owner Amy Lyda said she kept the restaurant open for two weeks at the start of the pandemic, but the financial strain became too hard, and she temporarily closed the restaurant. Lyda says that when the pandemic started, her biggest concern was her employees. Thankfully, most of her employees were able to receive unemployment benefits during the time the restaurant was closed.
“I want to retain as many of them as I can, but there’s so much uncertainty about what business will look like later on in the year,” said Lyda. “That’s why I applied for the loan—to help get us through until whenever things go back to some sense of normalcy.”
Lyda has since reopened Black Mountain Bistro with a reduced menu and curbside pickup and brought on some of the staff that were unable to receive unemployment help.
“This is a great example of how businesses are pivoting to solve their problems and the needs of consumers,” said Golden LEAF President, Chief Executive Officer Scott T. Hamilton. “The spirit of entrepreneurship is keeping many businesses afloat during these uncertain times.”