It’s been six months since North Las Vegas opened its Small Business Connector Center, a one-stop shop at City Hall for small businesses to seek support and funding.
Since then, the program has helped hundreds of businesses in southern Nevada, and this month increased the funding available to existing businesses.
“We just realized that the need was really great,” said Rich Easter, director of grant development and administration for North Las Vegas. “We spoke to our insurers and found that many of these organizations that were charging larger dollar amounts could actually qualify for those amounts if we had raised those caps.”
It’s no secret that the pandemic has financially devastated small businesses across the country, even with the availability of federal assistance programs and grants like the Economic Injury 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.
It found that the number of small businesses opening in the state fell 17.6 percent on Jan. 16, compared to the January 2020 figure. Statewide, the number of small businesses opened 2.9 percent over the same period.
With inflation rising to 8.5 percent in March, the biggest rise since December 1981, it will continue to be a challenging environment for small businesses, according to the National Federation of Independent Business.
“In the face of inflation, ongoing staff shortages and supply chain disruptions, small business owners remain pessimistic about their future business conditions,” NFIB chief economist Bill Dunkelberg said in a report this week.
A helping hand
Easter said the city was aware of the challenges local businesses were facing and that’s why the city introduced the connector in October.
“As we enter this recovery phase from COVID-19 and the pandemic, it’s important that we focus on our small business community,” he said. “These are our neighbors. You are our friends. They are our children and we need to make sure they have the resources and support they need to not just survive the pandemic, but really get through it.”
The center is supported by public and private partnerships and is open to all Southern Nevada businesses. The center’s loan program, Invest NLV, is only open to companies registered in North Las Vegas.
Entrepreneurs and business owners can get help growing or even starting a new business from UNLV’s Small Business Development Center, get help finding employees on the Employ NV Business Hub, and get help applying for a business license or permit through the city.
The connector has supported 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 a lot and call different numbers to find information,” he said. “Now everything is in City Hall – this centralization of all these different supports in one geographic location is what really sets us apart.”
North Las Vegas based companies can also apply to the Invest NLV revolving credit fund.
Easter said the city has earmarked $2 million from its share of the American Rescue Plan stimulus package to fund startups and existing businesses. After the funding, companies also receive free business advice.
“Research has shown that when you provide this type of support, your repayment success rates really go up,” Easter said. “It’s not that kind of cold relationship with a bank where it’s like, ‘Here’s your money. Much luck. We hope you pay, but if you don’t, we’ll come for your business.’”
He said the city has funded 18 companies representing a total of $354,450 in soft loans. But Easter said those numbers will soon rise because it is currently processing applications.
Loan amounts vary by company. Startups or companies 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 original $25,000 funding cap.
According to Easter, interest in the Small Business Connector Center is growing. The goal is to pour his $2 million pot into local businesses.
“When we have that many people calling and coming in and coming over, we know we’re doing the right thing,” he said. “That we use the resources that have been given to us where they can really make a difference and help.”