Dr. Millicent Brown started her Granville County podiatry practice in 2014 to help people “get back on their feet.” Dr. Brown primarily works with the elderly as well as patients who have underlying health conditions, making COVID-19 an even more serious threat to not only her patients and staff but also her business. The pandemic’s impact on North Carolina businesses has been unprecedented. For Dr. Brown’s practice, it has meant that elective surgeries had to be postponed.
“Our first concern when the pandemic really started was keeping our patients safe and healthy,” said Dr. Brown. “The hospital I work with is a small, community-based hospital. Using resources wisely and making smart decisions while maintaining patient health and safety is important.”
To help mitigate the unknowns around maintaining staff during the pandemic, Dr. Brown applied for an N.C. COVID-19 Rapid Recovery loan. The emergency bridge loan program launched in March with the support of the Golden LEAF Foundation and a consortium of nonprofit lending organizations. So far, the program has approved 549 loans totaling $19 million to support small business owners like Dr. Brown. These businesses report retaining 3,789 jobs across the state. Of the approved loans, 61% have been to minority or female-owned businesses and 72% to businesses with fewer than 10 employees.
“Being a business owner right now is stressful, and there’s a lot we’re dealing with behind the scenes,” said Dr. Brown, who is also a member of the Durham Jaycees and the Granville Chamber of Commerce. “Supporting local small businesses and being kind and understanding as we’re navigating these changes is crucial.”
Dr. Brown said the bridge loan has been a lifeline for her business.
N.C.’s small businesses are the backbone of the economy with approximately 160,000 in our state that employ 3.6 million workers, according to 2017 US Census Data. Golden LEAF provided $15 million to the N.C. Rural Center in March to kickstart the statewide N.C. COVID-19 Rapid Recovery Loan program to support N.C. small businesses affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. In May, the State appropriated $125 million to Golden LEAF to continue the loan program. The fund now totals more than $150 million including support from other foundations and local governments.
For some businesses, operations had to slow down, shut down temporarily, or undergo a dramatic transformation just to stay afloat during the pandemic.
In Jackson County, Laurie Bryson and her husband, Corey Bryson, wondered how their business could continue if their doors had to remain closed for months. The Brysons have owned and operated Balsam Falls Brewing since 2017. While some craft breweries bottle and can their beers for distribution, the only way to get Balsam Falls beers was to visit the brewery. Balsam Falls employed 10 people, including Laurie and Corey, prior to the pandemic.
“We’ve been trying to build a culture around our brewery,” said Corey Bryson. “We’re one of the few craft breweries in the area where our sales are dependent just on our taproom.”
But because of the pandemic, Balsam Falls had to reorganize its operations. The taproom closed but customers could purchase growlers of Balsam Falls beer and take advantage of curbside pickup.
“We’re in downtown Sylva, so there’s not a lot of street parking,” said Corey Bryson. “But we were able to get two parking spots in front of the brewery reserved for pickup.”
Thanks to an NC COVID-19 Rapid Recovery loan, the Brysons were able to pay expenses that had mounted up even as the doors remained closed.
“The pandemic changed everything,” said Laurie Bryson. “Filling growlers and curbside pickup helps, but the loan helps us make sure we can get to the other side of this.”
Laurie Bryson is an ambassador at the Jackson County Chamber of Commerce and is a board member of the Main Street Sylva Association. She said that COVID-19 has had an impact on the entire town of Sylva.
“All of the businesses are trying to band together because we’re all going through it together,” she said.
The NC COVID-19 Rapid Recovery loan program is just one of the ways that state leaders and nonprofit organizations are banding together to help in that effort. The program was launched at the onset of the pandemic and is structured to provide loans with a low-interest rate and no payments required in the first six months. To learn more about the program and to apply for a loan, visit ncrapidrecovery.org.