It’s been six months since North Las Vegas launched its Small Business Connector Center, a one-stop-shop inside City Hall for small businesses to receive support and funding.
Since then, the program has helped hundreds of businesses in Southern Nevada, and this month it increased the amount of financing available to existing businesses.
“We were just discovering that the need was really great,” said Rich Easter, director of grant development and administration for North Las Vegas. “We spoke to our underwriters and realized that many of these organizations that were requesting larger amounts might actually qualify for those amounts if we lifted those caps.”
It’s no secret that the pandemic has taken a financial toll on small businesses across the country, even with the availability of federal aid programs and grants like the Economic Disaster Loan. And the latest data from Harvard University’s Opportunity Insights research lab shows that Nevada’s small business community still hasn’t fully recovered.
He revealed that the number of small businesses open in the state was down 17.6% as of January 16, compared to the number in January 2020. Nationally, the number of small businesses open increased by 2, 9% for the same period.
With inflation climbing to 8.5% in March, the biggest increase since December 1981, the environment will continue to be difficult for small businesses, according to the National Federation of Independent Businesses.
“With inflation, a continued labor shortage and supply chain disruptions, small business owners remain pessimistic about their future business conditions,” said NFIB Chief Economist Bill Dunkelberg, in a report this week.
Easter said the city is well aware of the challenges local businesses face, and that’s why the city launched the connector in October.
“As we enter this period of recovery from COVID-19 and the pandemic, it is important that we focus on our small business community,” he said. “They are our neighbours. They are our friends. They are our children, and we need to make sure they have the resources and support they need to not only survive the pandemic, but to truly thrive.
The center is supported by public and private partnerships, and is open to any Southern Nevada business. The center’s lending program, Invest NLV, is open only to businesses registered in North Las Vegas.
Entrepreneurs and business owners can find help from the UNLV Small Business Development Center to grow or even start a new business, get help finding employees at the Employ Business Center NV and receive assistance when applying for a business license or permit across the city.
The connector has backed 412 businesses, more than half of which are minority, women, or veteran-owned businesses.
Having access to multiple services in one place is an improvement, Easter said.
“Before the connector, you had to drive and call different numbers to find information,” he said. “Now it’s all in City Hall – this centralization of all these different mediums in one geographic location is what really sets us apart.”
North Las Vegas-based businesses can also apply to its Invest NLV revolving loan fund.
Easter said the city has earmarked $2 million from its share of the U.S. bailout stimulus package to fund startups and existing businesses. Once funded, companies also receive free business advice.
“Research has shown that when you provide this kind of support, it really helps your repayment success rates go up,” Easter said. “It’s not that kind of cold relationship with a bank where it’s like, ‘Here’s your money. Good luck. We hope you pay, but if you don’t, we’ll come for your business.'”
He said the city funded 18 businesses, totaling $354,450 in low-interest loans. But Easter said those numbers will soon increase as he is currently processing applications.
Loan amounts vary by company. Startups or businesses less than a year old can receive up to $10,000. An existing small business can receive up to $45,000, which is above the initial funding limit of $25,000.
Easter said interest in the Small Business Connector center is growing. The goal is to dump his $2 million pot into local businesses.
“When we have people calling and coming in and stopping at this rate, it lets us know we’re doing the right thing,” he said. “That we put the resources that have been given to us where it can really make a difference and help.”
Contact Subrina Hudson at firstname.lastname@example.org. To follow @SubrinaH on Twitter.