EXTRAORDINARY TIMES CALL
FOR EXTRAORDINARY MEASURES:
SMALL BUSINESS ASSISTANCE
DURING THE PANDEMIC
A COMPARISON OF LOANS AND GRANTS DEPLOYED IN NORTH CAROLINA
Jamie R. McCall | Vice President* [See Note]
Brittany Bennett Weston | Executive Director**
James R. Onorevole | Program Associate*
John Carter Roberson | Research Fellow*
Jamie Andrews | Research Fellow*
*Carolina Small Business Development Fund
OVERVIEW AND RESEARCH QUESTIONS
Carolina Small Business Development Fund (CSBDF) administered 10 different loan and grant programs throughout the pandemic. These initiatives were offered in conjunction with a variety of public and philanthropic partners.
As part of our commitment to holistic and sustainable community development, CSBDF and ResilNC surveyed the beneficiaries of these interventions. In June 2022, the survey invitation was sent via email to 1,261 aid recipients. We received 570 fully and partially completed responses, equivalent to a response rate of 45%. Our primary research questions were:
Characteristics of Recipients
Are there significant differences in the characteristics of recipients based on whether they were awarded a loan, grant, or both types of aid?
Short-Term Results Assessment
Is there variance in short-term outputs and outcomes based on whether a beneficiary received a loan, a grant, or both types of aid?
Impact on High-Need Populations
Do the data show differential impacts for constituencies that experienced disproportionately high economic damage from the pandemic?
KEY DIFFERENCES FIRM CHARACTERISTICS BY AID TYPE
Gross Annual Revenues
CSBDF grantees reported disproportionately lower revenues than borrowers. Almost 4 in 10 grantees (39.1%) indicated revenues lower than $100k, compared to just one-fifth of borrowers (21.5%). Black loan and grant recipients were twice as likely (59.1%) to report revenues below $100k compared to White owners (24.5%). These differences held even after controlling for employment levels and other variables that are correlated with small business revenues.
Application and Receipt of Other Pandemic Aid
Compared to borrowers, grant recipients reported applying for a lower number of pandemic-related loans and grants. Respondents who received grants indicated various reasons for this. Sometimes, respondents simply did not qualify for programs available in their area. But in other cases, challenges were related to lack of knowledge about available programs, unfamiliarity with technology, and lack of application materials in non-English languages.
Application and Receipt of Pre-Pandemic Financing
There was no significant difference in application rates for pre-pandemic capital between grantees and borrowers. However, there is a notable difference in denial rates. Grantees (6.3%) were twice as likely to report being denied versus borrowers (2.8%). There is a strong negative correlation between denial rates and the firm owner’s race and/or ethnicity, particularly for Black and Hispanic applicants. These differences persist even after accounting for differences in revenue and industry type.
OUTPUTS & OUTCOMES ASSESSMENT
Payroll Employees at Time of Survey
Overall, loan recipients reported a higher level of employment (7.7 FTEs) versus grant recipients (5.1 FTEs). However, it is important to note our modeling suggests this difference is not meaningful after accounting for other factors. The strongest predictors a firm's employment level were gross annual revenues and being approved for a small business loan before the pandemic.
Firm Financial Resiliency
Almost half of borrowers (48.5%) said they had more than 60 days of cash on hand, compared to just one-third of grantees (33.6%). Notably, firm owner race prevailed as one of the largest predictors of cash on hand. For example, while 35.9% of Black firm owners indicated having less than 30 days of cash on hand, just 25.2% of White firm owners indicated the same.
Levels of Social Capital
Respondents indicated their level of agreement with a variety of statements about trust and cooperation within their community. The statements were designed to measure aspects of bridging, bonding, and linking social capital. Combined, these constructs are critical for community economic development. Notably, in aggregate there were no significant differences across intervention type.
Trust in Individuals and Institutions
Small business owners are more likely to thrive when they have trusted sources they can consult for advice. Respondents were presented with a list of entities and asked to rate each on being a good source of information for business management and finance. There were no significant differences in between grantees and borrowers. Those who received both types of aid were more likely to trust listed entities, however, that may be an anomaly caused by the small sample size.
Improved Business Sentiment
Borrowers were more likely to express agreement with statements reflecting a positive business outlook.. For instance, loan recipients (55.1%) were more confident in their ability to get financing if needed versus grant recipients (32.6%). This pattern was also reflected in levels of agreement for other sentiment questions. For example, grantees (71.2%) were more likely to report concerns about future COVID-19 surges versus borrowers (51.4%).
Future Financing Needs
As we might expect, there is a correlation between having a favorable business outlook sentiment and anticipating a need for future financing. While grantees were less likely to say they would be approved for financing, they were more likely to indicate a need for financing compared to borrowers. The owner's race and/or ethnicity was correlated with a future need for financing, even after controlling for revenues and firm age. Black (87.8%) and Hispanic owners (81.3%) were much more likely to anticipate a need for a loan as compared to White owners (51.5%). As with other tested outcomes that suggest racial disparities, these large gaps across demographic groups remained significant even after controlling for other explanatory factors.
CONCLUSIONS AND SUMMARY OF FINDINGS
We find preliminary support for the continued use of both grant and loan interventions to promote holistic community development and build resiliency across North Carolina's small business ecosystem. The below table summarizes our findings and indicates which intervention was associated with a greater relative improvement in the listed metric. We include a low, medium, or high certainty rating for each area, reflecting our assessment of how likely we would find the same pattern if the survey were repeated many times.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR POLICYMAKERS AND PRACTITIONERS
Small business recovery efforts must work to promote equitable access to aid in a more strategic and intentional manner.
Socioeconomic disparities can accrue at different rates across marginalized communities. The data showed negative impacts across all BIPOC owners. Concurrently, there are cases where adverse outcomes disproportionately accrued to Black-owned firms, even after controlling for other factors.
Current and future assistance programs must be designed in a manner that emphasizes both speed and application flexibility.
In future emergencies of any type, funding organizations should be flexible when providing small business relief. The counterpoint to prioritizing speed are concerns about fraud. But during a disaster, the harm caused by a more onerous application process is likely much higher than any aid wasted due to misrepresentation.
Financial institutions and philanthropic foundations should fund trials of both grant only and combined grant/loan aid.
Excluding the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), data on non-loan interventions for small businesses is extremely limited. We particularly recommend funding trials that combine small grants with larger loans. This is an innovative model of assistance that showed promise when tested before the pandemic.
Public sector partnerships with community organizations were highly effective, and they should be expanded/strengthened.
CDFIs, CDCs, and similar types of organizations are familiar with unmet local economic needs and have a proven track record in adapting to quickly changing circumstances.. We must keep forward momentum by bolstering existing partnerships and identifying new opportunities for cross sector collaboration.
Note: At the time of publication Jamie McCall was the VP, Economic Development Policy for Carolina Small Business Development Fund. As of January 2023, he is the Research & Insights Manager at the Deloitte Center for Board Effectiveness. The views and opinions expressed herein do not represent nor reflect those of Deloitte & Touche (M.E.) LLP (DME). Opinions, conclusions, and other information on this website, brief, and report have not been delivered by way of the business of Deloitte & Touche (M.E.) LLP (DME) are are not endorsed by it. Jamie can be reached at email@example.com.