Beaufort County Black Chamber receives $500k grant to help businesses hurt by COVID-19

Hilton Head Island Packet
October 12, 2020

By Stephen Fastenau

Some Beaufort County small business owners will get help keeping employees and learning skills to keep businesses afloat thanks in part to a half-million dollar award from a major bank.

The Beaufort County Black Chamber of Commerce received $500,000 from Wells Fargo as part of a program aimed at providing relief to small businesses during the coronavirus pandemic. The grant money will go to help minority-owned businesses in under-served areas of the Lowcountry, a Wells Fargo release said.

The money will be funneled to businesses who didn’t qualify for federal Payroll Protection Program loans, Chamber President and CEO Larry Holman said. Some businesses will receive loans at 3% interest rates, while about 15 will receive grants of up to $7,500 each, Holman said.

The businesses have included startups, caterers, food trucks, a barber shop and bakery, he said.

“Most of them need cash flow to keep them afloat, especially the ones that have survived,“ Holman said. “It’s basically for survival and to pay their employees they do have left, the ones they have not had to let go.”

The loan amounts will be up to $35,000 and have averaged about $30,000 to those who have been approved so far, Holman said.

The Beaufort County Black Chamber is among the first organizations to receive money through Wells Fargo’s Open for Business Fund, which the bank says will give $400 million for small business relief through Community Development Financial Institutions like the Beaufort County Black Chamber.

“The Open for Business Fund is another avenue of support and enlists the expertise of organizations like the chamber to urgently help South Carolina small businesses recover and preserve the jobs they provide in the community,” Robert Horn, Wells Fargo’s region bank president in the Lowcountry, said in a statement. “Together, we can help more diverse small business owners reach their full potential and strengthen our communities.”

A separate grant cycle through Oct. 23 will go to nonprofit organizations to provide technical advice and mentoring to small business owners, the bank said.

Those who receive grants and loans through the chamber are encouraged to attend a six-week business training course, Holman said. More than 100 businesses have participated in a current course ending at the end of the month.

“We want people to be accountable and responsible for the use of the money,” Holman said. “You can’t go into a bank right now and get 3% (loan interest); it’s not going to happen for a small business.”

The state will open applications this month for $40 million in grant money for minority-owned businesses and small businesses affected by COVID-19.

Grants will be from $2,500-$25,000 and can be used for staff, operating and facility costs, as well as protective equipment and revenue shortages, a news release from the S.C. Small Business Chamber of Commerce said.

Applications will be accepted from Oct. 19-Nov. 1, with awards in mid-December.

To qualify, businesses must have been open for at least a year, have 25 or fewer employees and have had business affected by the pandemic. Priority will go to minority-owned businesses, businesses with fewer than 15 employees and those that didn’t receive federal assistance, the release said.

“This is an opportunity for all the small businesses that were locked out of PPP loans to receive some financial help for them to survive,” said Frank Knapp Jr., president and CEO of the South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce. “These grants can be critical especially for our self-employed and micro businesses. But since there is only a two-week application window, businesses will have to move quickly.”


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