By Patrick Woodie
Since its creation in 1989, the N.C. Rural Center has been investing in North Carolina’s rural economic backbone: our state’s small business owners. Recently, we doubled down on that investment, launching Thread Capital, a nonprofit that helps hardworking entrepreneurs start or expand their business.
Thread works with North Carolina’s small businesses in three ways: providing capital to grow a business, coaching to overcome obstacles, and offering connections to other trusted lenders and experienced mentors who can provide additional support as they grow.
Our position is simple: We want to support aspiring entrepreneurs, particularly our rural entrepreneurs, in any way we can. We want to be the organization they can trust to help them navigate an uncertain marketplace and get the right loan and support they need to be successful.
The timing couldn’t be better, as a renewed push for rural entrepreneurial investment is needed now more than ever. In North Carolina, very small businesses (fewer than 10 employees) make up 75 percent of the state’s rural business establishments. Since the start of the Great Recession, lending trends in North Carolina mirror a decreasing access to small business capital nationwide – and a significant one at that. According to data compiled by the Rural Center, bank lending to rural small businesses in North Carolina with less than $1 million in annual revenues decreased 61 percent when comparing data from 2005 to 2015, a total decline of $1.6 billion.
The need to breathe new life into rural entrepreneurial investment is clear. Small businesses mean big jobs for North Carolina, and rural entrepreneurship is deeply woven into our state’s economic history and its cultural psyche.
The historical foundation is there, from our state’s agricultural might, to its artisan crafts, to its manufacturing innovation. The bottom line: Despite our state’s economic evolution, our tradition of entrepreneurship and remains a beacon of hope for many seeking a better way of life.
North Carolina’s entrepreneurial appetite has driven our state’s growth as an international economic engine, and along the way, ambitious and hardworking small business owners have provided countless jobs to our state.
Unfortunately, as North Carolina has prospered, our rural places have lagged behind the rest of our state. But rest assured the rural entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well, and with the right resources, is ready for a strong recovery.
At the Rural Center, we see the launch of Thread Capital as our contribution to a larger effort to build a more robust ecosystem of entrepreneurship in North Carolina. We know we cannot do it alone, and we know statewide partnerships between private lenders, local and state governments, and the nonprofit sector is essential to make a real and lasting difference.
Small business ownership is not for the faint of heart. Now more than ever, our state should seek to support our existing small businesses and our emerging entrepreneurs wherever they may be across the landscape of our state. After all, it will be these courageous men and women who create the bulk of new jobs in our state as they work to fulfill their own dreams.
The Rural Center is “all in” when it comes to our commitment to growing our small businesses. We invite you to join us and follow along at www.threadcap.org.
Patrick Woodie is president and CEO of the N.C. Rural Center.