COVID-19 RELIEF PROGRAMS WRAP UP
While we are not completely out of the woods with regards to the effects of COVID-19 on WNC’s small business ecosystem, we are optimistic that we have reached a point where we can look to the future. We can see the light on the horizon and believe that this next chapter will see WNC continue to use its creativity, ingenuity, and tenacity, to create a flourishing and vibrant local economy.
As the COVID-19 pandemic comes to a close and we prepare to shift focus to new opportunities and success, we would like to highlight the substantial and important impact of our lending and give some important thanks to our partners.
Over the course of 2020 and early 2021, we have worked diligently to deploy resources to the WNC community to invest and lend in and outside our footprint to any small business in need. We awarded in excess of $57 million in monetary awards and loans within our WNC footprint, deployed $18 million to North Carolina small businesses outside of our footprint, and allocated $14 million to people of color or women owned businesses.
As we move into the next phase of 2021, we will continue to prioritize our mission to provide lending and learning resources in a supportive manner while at the same time broadening the scope and impact of our offerings.
NC Rapid Recovery Program – $25M
Paycheck Protection Program – $24M
Buncombe Tourism Jobs Recovery Fund – $5M
Local Response Funds – $3.2M
Our clients deserve a lot of the credit. This pandemic was conquered through their resilience and ability to adapt to the ever-changing landscape of the economy. Click on the pictures below to read some of their stories.
M.S. Lean Landscaping, LLC is an Asheville, NC-based business that specializes in everything landscaping. That includes lawn maintenance, trimming and pruning, landscape design, cultivation, lawn fertilization and aeration, small tree and leaf removal, edging, composting, mulching, weed removal, and more. M.S. Lean was created in honor of the owner Stephen Smith’s grandmother who dedicated her life to serving her community.
At the onset of COVID in the United States, several of M.S. Lean’s commercial clients were forced to prioritize which contracts they were able to keep, in many cases choosing to cease or pause their work with the landscaping company. By working with Mountain BizWorks to obtain a One Buncombe Fund loan, owner Stephen Smith was able to keep his employees on staff and working. “This was a hard time for small businesses—especially Black businesses,” he said. “The loan came at a much-needed time.” It allowed Stephen to not only avoid needing to lay off employees, but actually hire more as new clients came on. He shared his hopes that similar funding programs will continue to assist Black businesses that are often hit hardest in economic recessions.
Learn more about M.S. Lean Landscaping, LLC at https://www.facebook.com/MSLean1.
“This is a hard time for small businesses—especially Black businesses. The loan came at a much-needed time and allowed me to not only avoid laying off employees, but actually hire more as new clients came on.”
The West Marion Community Forum is comprised of five working groups who focus on improving five key social determinants of health in their community: housing, transportation, childcare services, healthy food options, and youth engagement. The purpose of each group is to build relationships among members of the West Marion community, learn about existing resources to strengthen the community, identify locally driven solutions to issues related to those five determinants of health, and work together to address these challenges over the long term.
Thanks to the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan the West Marion Community Forum was able to acquire from Mountain BizWorks’, they could assure their employees were paid on time for their hard work. “As a small non-profit, this meant a lot to our organization,” Executive Director Paula Swepson-Avery said. It also meant that the Forum could continue to focus on the goals that its community had identified, and also work “to connect local small businesses owned by people of color to much-needed resources” without needing to worry about paying the forum’s own employees for a little while.
Learn more about the West Marion Community Forum at westmarion.org
Located in downtown Asheville in the heart of the South Slope area, Majik Studios is a teaching studio that offers relaxing art classes with qualified, experienced teachers in a variety of different media, such as paint, watercolor, and marbling. Classes are tailored to an accessible skill level, allowing participants of all abilities to craft their own masterpieces, and the studio also can be rented for team exercises, parties, or creative excursions.
Majik Studios was the recipient of a One Buncombe Fund loan in May 2020, which gave the business a foundation to build on in a shaky year and a new economy. Early in the pandemic, as in-person classes needed to slow or stop, revenue disappeared but expenses didn’t.
“When I received the One Buncombe fund loan in May, I felt a heavy weight lift off my shoulders,” said Pam Granger Gale, the studio’s owner. It covered several months of rent and expenses, providing Majik the bandwidth to develop a reopening strategy and market new, smaller in-person classes that can be done safely, which has been something they’ve seen a lot of interest in throughout 2020. Through these private, 4-person classes, Majik is set to remain a vibrant, growing part of the local arts community even through a difficult time.
Learn more about Majik Studios at majik-studios.com.
Suzy Phillips has been cooking food ever since she was a child in Lebanon. She shares a love and passion for good ingredients and delicious spices with her attentive staff at the two businesses she owns in Asheville. There’s Gypsy Queen Cuisine, a Lebanese deli, market, and food truck, and Simple Cafe & Juice Bar, a cafe and juice/smoothie bar that proudly serves organic fruits & veggies to all.
During a precarious economic time in early 2020, Suzy worked with Mountain BizWorks to apply for a Buncombe County Tourism Jobs Recovery Fund (TDA) grant. The program from the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority aimed to provide emergency grant funding to small businesses connected to the tourism industry so they could safely and sustainably reopen. And thanks to that TDA grant, both of her locations were able to reopen with renovations in place for the safety of both staff and customers.
“The grant made it possible to set ourselves up for success in the service industry’s ‘new normal,’ with extra distancing and sanitation measures,” Suzy said. The funds allowed them to take the food truck out into neighborhoods and feed them where they live, as well as to take care of their staff and replace inventory that was lost when they had to shut down for two months earlier in the year. “Our industry may never look the same again, but this is a great step in the right direction as we face an uncertain future.”
Hood Hugger International, LLC builds greater communication, connection and wealth in systemically marginalized neighborhoods in the “Affrilachian region” (Affrilachia refers to African Americans living in Appalachia as coined by Frank X Walker) through the arts, environment, and social enterprise. Hood Huggers offers sustainable strategies for building support pillars for resilient, historically African American neighborhoods and provides a framework for community capacity building and maintaining while increasing the effectiveness of existing service programs. Their mission is to build a culture of stability that is inclusive and economically just.
Prior to the COVID 19 pandemic, Hood Huggers had business goals in place for the first half of 2020 as well as some much-needed maintenance scheduled for their fleet of tour vehicles. As the pandemic took its toll on the economy in the Spring, it looked like both would be put on hold. Thankfully, with Mountain BizWorks’ help, the organization was able to receive a Buncombe County Tourism Jobs Recovery Fund (TDA) grant. “It allowed me to help stabilize my business during this sudden shutdown,” said DeWayne Barton, CEO and founder of Hood Huggers International.
That funding allowed for vehicle repairs and upgrades, and also enabled them to bring in some multimedia and marketing expertise. That expertise will help connect the dots between the tours and the work they do within the community and share their story with more people across social platforms. With those stronger platforms in place, Hood Huggers hopes to access additional funding streams to continue to grow both the business and a broader, more equitable entrepreneurial ecosystem in the region.
Learn more about Hood Huggers at hoodhuggers.com
Qualla Arts and Crafts in Cherokee, NC is the nation’s oldest Native American cooperative. Founded in 1946, it showcases the work of over 250 members, offering a vast selection of baskets, pottery, wood and stone carving, beadwork, and much more. It operates with the belief that Cherokee crafts—if preserved and promoted—can “strengthen tribal values and provide livelihoods while offering unique beauty to the wider world.”
Despite the economic shock due to the COVID-19 pandemic beginning in the early months of 2020, on June 16 Qualla was able to reopen its physical location, with all seven employees returning to work. Without flexible funding options through the crisis, this would never have been a possibility come June. Qualla received a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan through Mountain BizWorks and used it to pay salaries for the months of May through August. Without it, “the gallery and retail shop would have been in financial stress and unable to proceed with normal operations,” according to Qualla manager Vicki Cruz—thankfully, the PPP loan kept all employees taken care of until they could safely reopen.
Learn more about Qualla Arts and Crafts at quallaartsandcrafts.com/.
InnovaKnits, LLC is a contract manufacturing company based out of Conover, North Carolina. With over 30 years of experience in the design and production of flat knit textiles, the team at InnovaKnits has worked on textile projects across many different industries, including aerospace, energy, performance athletics, orthotics and prosthetics, wearable electronics, high end fashion, and apparel. Most recently the company’s focus has been on the development and production of niche products for the medical, wearable electronics, and technical textiles fields—during the COVID-19 pandemic, that has meant a lot of masks.
As a recipient of a North Carolina Rapid Recovery (NCRR) loan, InnovaKnits received much needed funding, helping the company weather the economic impact of the pandemic. The funds allowed InnovaKnits to start crafting much-needed face masks for the region while still remaining focused on the long-term consulting and product development work the business is relied on for. The loan allowed the company to grow—even during the downturn—to retain all of their employees that wanted to continue to work, and to lend an expert hand in keeping North Carolinians safe through protective face masks. “Mountain BizWorks made it easy for us to make sure our employees were well taken care of in this uncertain time,” said Jason Robert Wilkins, managing partner at InnovaKnits.
Learn more about InnovaKnits at innovaknits.com
Zebulon Artisan Ales is a brewer of Belgian and French farmhouse ales in downtown Weaverville, North Carolina. They operate a tasting area and sell small-batch bottles of their brews—not just the farmhouse ales they focus on, but also occasional “historical, forgotten, and mythological beer styles.” Their beers are aged in large oak puncheon barrels with wild yeasts, sometimes for several years in order to develop their complex flavors.
Zebulon received a Buncombe County Tourism Jobs Recovery Fund grant in 2020, which allowed the small brewery to stay in business, pay its employees, and create a safe environment for its customers while embarking on online initiatives that will bring it closer to its community in Weaverville and across Buncombe County. The grant provided Zebulon greater flexibility to pay for ingredients, packaging, new safety measures, and gave the business a buffer against debt in an unnerving time. “Without this grant we would have struggled to remain afloat—it would have been extremely stressful, not only for our business, but for our family as well,” said Gabrielle Pickard, co-owner at Zebulon.
Learn more about Zebulon Artisan Ales at zebulonbrewing.com
Our VOICE, Inc. is a non-profit crisis intervention and prevention agency which serves victims of sexual violence, age 13 and up in Buncombe County. The agency was founded in 1974 as an all-volunteer grassroots organization, and in August 1983 received 501(c)(3) status as a non-profit agency. Now, almost 40 years and considerable growth later, Our VOICE employs six staff and over 50 volunteers, working both to support the healing of survivors of sexual violence and to prevent future acts of sexual violence.
Receiving a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan came at a crucial time for Our VOICE. The agency had to cancel its largest fundraiser, the “Break the Silence Speaker Series,” in March due to COVID-19. “Canceling our event meant that we were facing a deficit that we did not know how to overcome,” said Angelica Wind, executive director of Our VOICE. With the help of Mountain BizWorks, the agency received a PPP loan that provided financial stability and enabled them “to shift from being reactive to proactive in addressing COVID-19’s impact on our organization and the services we provide,” said Wind.
As a sexual violence and human trafficking crisis and prevention center, Our VOICE is accustomed to a certain level of crisis in their work. But the onset of COVID-19 escalated the challenges they already experienced. Thanks to the PPP loan, the agency was able to keep staff at pre-COVID-19 levels and continue to carry out their crucial mission. The funds also allowed Our VOICE to give all staff a week of paid time off so they could focus on their own well-being during these uncertain times, then return to work to help others in need.
Learn more about Our VOICE, Inc. at ourvoicenc.org
For over 20 years, Jose Gonzalez and Gabriel Munoz have been bringing their clients unique and upscale gifts, apparel, home decor, and accessories through J. Gabriel retail stores across the South. Recently they moved to focus on just one brick-and-mortar store in Cashiers, NC and an online store where they showcase some of the most popular products they’ve offered over the years, as well as interesting new finds. The shop has been a popular destination for those seeking an eclectic mix of fine gifts and original art, decor, and jewelry.
As the pandemic temporarily halted many businesses in the early months of 2020, Jose and Gabriel worked with Mountain BizWorks to secure funding from three loan programs designed to help guide small businesses through the difficult environment: the All In Jackson Fund, the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), and the North Carolina Rapid Recovery (NCRR) program. “Receiving these funds made the difference between keeping our employees paid” during the time J. Gabriel was closed and having to make difficult decisions around payroll and staffing, said Jose. The funds “sustained us when we re-opened, too. I am not sure we would have survived without this assistance.”
Learn more about J. Gabriel at jgabrielliving.com.
Our clients deserve a lot of the credit. This pandemic was conquered through their resilience and ability to adapt to the ever-changing landscape of the economy.
FUnders and supporters