Friday, June 30, 2023

Small Business Reflections on Setbacks, Successes and Funding Partnerships

ribbon cutting with people in front of a building

by Danielle Delaini, ANCA Entrepreneurial Economy Program Director

ANCA’s Small Business Team’s focuses on the current and future needs of the entrepreneurs with whom we work. We experience and witness many emotions through the successes and disappointments of the people we serve.

Whether we’re helping owners transition their businesses to the next generation, or helping artisans reach wholesale markets with their products, or guiding businesses affected by COVID-19 and other economic challenges with resources to help them build resilience — it can all feel inconsequential in moments of disappointment.

My heart hurts when a business closes despite the support our organization and our partners provide. When a business transition has all the right ingredients for a successful transfer but just doesn’t come together, I feel deep empathy for the business owner who has worked so hard to reach that point only to have to start over. When a new vendor leaves our Adirondack Buyer Days trade show with new wholesaling experience and knowledge, but no new retailer clients, I feel their disappointment too.

Single instances of setbacks can derail us from seeing the big picture and meeting our goals of integrative support for transformative, inclusive wealth-building in our communities. So too, can single instances of success.

When we see a smiling business owner who has successfully taken over an existing business, cutting a ribbon with their families, surrounded by government and community leaders — it may be difficult to also see the leaking roof in the building behind them, the high heating bills, a business website that has not been updated since the start of the dot com boom, and the stress of working with existing employees.

Neither one success story nor one setback ever tells the whole story. That’s why I keep ANCA’s 2020-2025 Strategic Plan open on my desk daily — to remind myself that everything we do is part of a larger, inclusive and long-term strategy. That is also why funding support from agencies to organizations thinking and working at the systems level is so crucial to the empowerment of rural regions as they envision and enact their own economic futures.

Piecing Together Private and Public Funding

In 2021, ANCA was fortunate to receive two funding sources that validated the spirit of our integrative approach to our work with small businesses — one in which singular successes and setbacks are not the measure of the forward momentum of the whole.

The resulting program, ANCA’s Center for Pandemic Response (ANCA CPR), is made possible by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration and The Mastercard Impact Fund, which is administered by The Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth. The backing of these two entities supports the success, hard work and hope of a framework that bolsters rural businesses in the Adirondack North Country and the health of our organization while providing leadership for others seeking solutions to pressing economic and community challenges.

If you don’t work in nonprofit fundraising, you may not be aware of the significance and impact that synchronous funding from a foundation and the federal government can have on a new program that addresses urgent needs. When the timing and priorities of private and public grant programs align — a challenging puzzle indeed — the funds help create real, tangible and long-lasting results for the people and communities served.

With this support, ANCA and our partners have been working with business owners across the region to help them navigate the deep sea of federal, state and local support programs designed to stabilize our at-risk economy with measures including direct financial support:

In the USA, the largest program providing funds to small businesses is the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) with a volume of $650 billion during the early stages of the pandemic (Bhutta et al., 2020). The Small Business Administration (SBA)–administered program provided loans to small businesses through banks, credit unions, and other financial institutions with the goal of keeping small businesses open and retaining employees on the payroll (Fairlie & Fossen, 2021).

These incentives certainly helped many businesses survive the unprecedented challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the benefits have not been experienced equally across all types of enterprises and entrepreneurs:

The shock of the pandemic may further increase inequality in at least two ways: First, female owners of small businesses faced a 35% higher probability of experiencing income losses than their male counterparts with the gender gap among the self-employed being largely explained by the fact that women disproportionately work in industries that are more severely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic (Graeber et al., 2021). Second, the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic may be more pronounced for minorities in developed (Fairlie and Fossen, 2021) and developing countries (Maliszewska et al., 2020; Pereira & Patel, 2021).

Besides, covering paychecks was not (and is not) the only worry keeping small business owners up at night. Our region’s entrepreneurs face other funding gaps, and ANCA CPR’s unique pairing of funding agencies has helped us fill in those gaps. Examples include:

  • At the Ausable Theater in Au Sable Forks, ANCA CPR funding helped owners Norman Jabaut and Jason Andrew insulate their historic space, lowering costs and increasing usability as they host multifaceted arts and culture events at this community hub.
  • Scott and Vanessa Gilbert at Tug Hill Artisan Roasters received funding assistance through CPR to install heat pumps in their previously vacant jail building on Main Street in Lowville, creating a welcoming downtown space where they run their roastery, bakery, coffee bar, and plan to add a cafe and rentable spaces. (Scott pictured above with heat pumps).
  • The Mustard Seed’s Juli Webster has taken advantage of a number of programs to grow the clientele of her artisan herbal goods shop in Little Falls. As a multi-year Adirondack Buyer Days wholesale show vendor, Juli also participated in ANCA CPR’s Strategic Tools workshop series to strengthen her business acumen, and utilized funds to improve photographs of her products for print and web media. (Julia pictured at our 2022 Adirondack Buyer Days show).
  • Kristof Hertel of Plattsburgh’s Polish Korner utilized funds offered through ANCA CPR’s partnership with the North Country Chamber of Commerce to improve his e-commerce and web presence, and attended a welcoming and belonging workshop for small businesses and organizations to grow his modern Polish food business.

ANCA CPR’s private/public funding mashup is not the only creative funding collaboration to support our work. Other recent examples include:

  • The SOIL Loan Fund — a collaboration between ANCA and Foodshed Capital — provides flexible, zero-interest financing to small farm and food businesses to help them grow, increase their stability, and strengthen food system security. The Fund was launched in 2020 with the support of individual donors, private corporations and local foundations.
  • Our 2018 study and report, Regional Economic Analysis for the Adirondack North Country, where ANCA and partner organizations set out to better understand economic drivers and opportunities related to the region’s eco-economy in order to support existing and attract new entrepreneurs and businesses to the region. The study, which yielded key data that informs the work of ANCA and other organizations serving North Country businesses and communities, was funded by a diverse mix of private corporations, universities, foundations and donors.
  • and the Town of Essex Solar Project, where Town officials utilized a variety of funding sources to install a solar array on the Whallonsburg Grange Hall: two New York State sources (a Clean Energy Communities grant and NY-Sun rebate); Essex County bed tax funding that is apportioned to towns to promote tourism; and a federal investment tax credit that is now available to local governments and nonprofits through the Inflation Reduction Act. (Photo above from the solar ribbon-cutting ceremony on April 22, 2023) 

Shared Goals

Since our founding in 1955, ANCA has utilized creative funding strategies like these to build pathways toward generational wealth and industry sector development. With this kind of support, we are working steadily to improve the economic security of women, members of the BIPOC community, young workers, veterans and other populations throughout our large rural region.

We strive to provide services that address small business needs by working closely with local partners, federal and state agencies and private foundations in order to achieve our shared goals of creating equitable access to wealth. We work together to help our region not only to recover from COVID-19 and other current economic challenges facing Rural America — but to thrive.

This summer, upon reaching our goal of supporting 305 North Country businesses through the ANCA CPR program, our team will share stories of businesses who have benefited from the initiative, partners whose expertise has had real impact for individual businesses, and funding supporters who have made this work possible.

Today, as we diligently work on applications for state grants, we wish to acknowledge the power of private/public partnerships, and how by piecing together funding opportunities, ANCA has been able to advance this collaborative and transformative work across the region.

We honor the successes and challenges our region’s small businesses experience day to day and year to year. On behalf of these hardworking and passionate people and all of us at ANCA, we express our gratitude to the funding partners who make this important work possible.

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ANCA is building prosperity across northern New York. Our programs and partnerships focus in these areas: ANCA Center for Pandemic Response, Entrepreneurial Economy, Food Systems and Energy.

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