Three S.C. Community Development Financial Institutions will receive nearly $3 million in grants as part of Wells Fargo’s Open for Business program.
The $420 million national small business recovery program, launched using the interest earned by Wells Fargo from Paycheck Protection Program loans, aims to help diverse and minority-owned businesses recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The South Carolina Community Loan Fund, which has offices in Columbia, Charleston and Spartanburg, will receive $1 million to distribute to small businesses, as will Greenville-based CommunityWorks. The CLIMB Fund, a Charleston-based business development fund, will receive $750,000.
“We know that small businesses are the heartbeat of our communities across the United States,” Justin Hawkins, region bank president for Wells Fargo, said during an announcement of the funding today at Piecewise Coffee Co. in Cayce. “They really pump life into our neighborhoods, making them vibrant places to live, to work, to raise families, and they are key to millions of jobs.”
Lindsey Scoma, who owns Piecewise with her husband Stan, received a $118,000 small business loan from the S.C. Community Loan Fund for their cozy State Street coffee shop, which opened in 2019.
“We couldn’t thank them enough for their investment,” Scoma said. “It’s difficult in the beginning. It’s like I used to serve in a restaurant, and everyone wants you to have experience but no one wants to be the one to give you the experience. We were super thankful that they met us where we were at and saw a lot of potential in us.”
Today’s announcement, attended by CDFI officials and Lt. Gov. Pamela Evette, took place in a new event space adjacent to the coffee shop slated to open soon. Scoma said she had been in talks with the building owners about expanding for a while, “but for a couple of years, we were like no more liability for us, especially because the pandemic happened,” she said. But with ongoing safety protocols necessitating more space as part of a business pivot that also included opening a catering arm, “we took the leap of faith and here we are, opening in the next week or so.”
That’s the kind of success story Hawkins hopes the Open for Business funding can help facilitate throughout the state. Having recently opened his own small business in Greer, Hawkins said he now understands firsthand the sacrifices small business owners have to make.
“Your job ranges from being CEO to janitor on a daily basis,” he said. “It’s a tough job, (and) more needed to be done to reach diverse small business owners, especially those that were really hit hard by the pandemic.”
Facebook’s September Global State of Small Business Report, with responses from 35,189 business leaders across 30 countries and territories, found that minority-led small businesses were more likely to report closures related to the pandemic at 20% to 14%, as well as more likely (44% to 29%) to report a drop in sales and reduced employment (32% to 20%) than other businesses. Hispanic-led small businesses had the U.S.’s highest closure rate at 24%, while Black-led businesses reported a 22% closure rate.
Amber Murray owns Fuel Flo, a subscription fueling service that provides fuel to customers at their homes or businesses. Serving Orangeburg, Dorchester, Charleston and Berkeley counties, the business received a $145,000 small business loan from the S.C. Community Loan Fund.
“The struggles of finding funding for this business, especially during the pandemic – it was extremely hard,” said Murray, who moved back to her native St. George from Georgia to launch her business. “But they believed in me. I can’t thank them enough for that.”
Evette, herself an entrepreneur and the founder of Travelers Rest-based benefits services firm Quality Business Solutions, said investment in small business such as the Open for Business funds and the Opportunity Zone program created by Sen. Tim Scott is crucial to help underserved, rural communities access the capital they need to recover from the pandemic.
"Those small businesses change lives, change families, and change communities,” Evette said. “It’s those people coming together and changing their trajectory. We want to make sure that we capitalize. Not only do we now have $3 million to offer to diverse and minority-owned businesses, it comes on the heels of Tim Scott’s Opportunity Zone funds. So we’re really looking to help our rural communities and change what they look like, because we realize bringing business to our rural areas is what changes those communities.”