Across the nation–in rural, urban, and suburban areas alike–small businesses and entrepreneurs create the unique identity of our communities and are drivers of local economic development. Nowhere is this more abundantly clear than in North Carolina, where businesses with between two and 50 employees make up 95 percent of all business entities and account for 44 percent of employment in the state.
As we emerge from a year that saw many businesses close their doors permanently following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the health of countless other small firms remain in jeopardy. The pandemic has only amplified serious existing issues facing our state’s small-business owners and entrepreneurs long before the arrival of COVID in 2020.
- Between 2005 and 2015, there was a seven percent decline in very small business establishments in rural North Carolina (compared to a nine percent gain in urban counties).
- Between 2010 and 2020, there was a 27 percent decline in bank branches in rural North Carolina (compared to a 10 percent decline in urban countries).
- Between 2005 and 2015, rural counties experienced a 61 percent decline in small business lending, for a total decline of more than $1.6 billion.
Now is the time to implement long-term and statewide policy solutions to stabilize the economic viability of our state's small businesses. The NC Rural Center, along with a statewide Small Business Policy Task Force (SBPTF), have introduced North Carolina’s New Small Business Plan, a set of state-specific policy recommendations addressing the challenges and opportunities facing entrepreneurs in the following focus areas: funding, support, opportunity, and knowledge.
Funding: Equal Access to the Right Kind of Capital Everywhere
- We believe ensuring equitable access to capital for all entrepreneurs and small-business owners is critical to the success of North Carolina’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. This is particularly true for business owners who are women, people of color, veterans, and differently abled individuals.
Support: The Ability for All to Take Risks
- We believe that entrepreneurs must have adequate support resources not only while operating a business, but also before starting. The lack of access to health insurance and affordable high-speed broadband, among other issues, pose a serious barrier to those starting and growing a small business in North Carolina.
Opportunity: An Equitable Level Playing Field and Less Red Tape
- We believe that capital, technical assistance, and other business support resources must account for historical disparities faced by entrepreneurs who are women, people of color, rural, and/or live in low-to-moderate income communities, and who have consistently encountered significant systemic challenges at both the startup and growth stages of their business development.
Knowledge: The Know-How to Start a Business
- We believe that North Carolina has a rich entrepreneurial ecosystem, but far more can be achieved through stronger coordination, marketing, and funding of our business resource providers. In addition, more must be done to support and reach new and emerging entrepreneurs established in the early academic years, as well as at the community college and collegiate levels.