BOONE, N.C. — Appalachian State University’s Small Business and Technology Development Center (SBTDC) served as a “first responder” during the pandemic — a key partner in North Carolina’s assistance to small businesses in its 14-county region.
The App State-affiliated SBTDC, which has offices in both Boone and Hickory, offers no-cost, confidential business counseling, tools and advice to small companies on a variety of challenges — including management, financial analysis and funding, marketing, strategy development and human resources.
When COVID-19 hit, many business owners needed a third party to help them pivot their business, said SBTDC Regional Director Ron Elmore. For instance, one local printing company experienced a large decline in its regular orders. Elmore said the center helped the company develop a new business stream: producing COVID-related retail signage and floor stickers to promote physical distancing and the wearing of face coverings.
The primary issue for the center’s clients early in the pandemic was how to raise capital to cover costs as their sales were disrupted, Elmore said.
“Small businesses, those with up to 500 employees, are the lifeblood of the country, representing 99% of U.S. businesses and 50% of our GDP (gross domestic product). The pandemic produced an unprecedented need for funds for these privately held businesses,” Elmore said. “The federal and state governments rapidly developed programs to help, but the process was new, unfamiliar and seen as complicated. We received lots of requests for advice and assistance.”
In addition to handling incoming calls, SBTDC reached out directly to chambers of commerce, providing webinar content and expert resources to share with local businesses.
Elmore said SBTDC had systems and tools in place to quickly and efficiently address businesses’ needs. “We have an established process for a holistic evaluation of a business, plus a great staff with 35 years of experience in disaster planning and response due to situations like hurricanes in our state. Our process was the same during the COVID crisis — but we had to work with a lot more clients in a short period of time,” he said.
During the first five months of the pandemic, Elmore said SBTDC’s team of consultants — in partnership with App State faculty, staff and graduate students — handled more than four times their normal caseload.
In addition to the need to raise capital, some of the challenges SBTDC helped businesses tackle in 2020 included managing necessary employee layoffs and the timing of re-hiring, along with redefining business models and services offered and ramping up technology solutions to meet new customer behaviors.
Disruptions in the supply chain caused by the pandemic have been another problem for small businesses. In response, SBTDC is partnering with App State’s Department of Marketing and Supply Chain Management and Master of Science in applied data analytics program to conduct a survey among small businesses across the state to measure the impact of these disruptions and develop resources and recommend best practices.
“We’re an extension of Appalachian, the state of North Carolina and the Small Business Administration, reaching out to help the community,” Elmore said.
Including App State’s center, there are 10 regional centers that form the state’s SBTDC system, with each center affiliated with one or more universities in the University of North Carolina System. In 2020, these centers collectively aided client businesses by facilitating:
- 67,300 counseling hours.
- $260 million in capital raised.
- 10,960 jobs created.
- 432 new business start-ups.
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About the Walker College of Business
The Walker College of Business at Appalachian State University delivers transformational educational experiences that prepare and inspire students to be ethical, innovative and engaged business leaders who positively impact our community, both locally and globally. The college places emphasis on international experiences, sustainable business practices, entrepreneurial programs and real-world applications with industry. Enrolling approximately 3,000 undergraduates in 10 majors and more than 180 graduate students in three master’s programs, Walker College has the highest enrollment of full-time undergraduate students in the University of North Carolina System. Walker College is accredited by AACSB International — the premier global accrediting body for business schools. Learn more at https://business.appstate.edu.
About Appalachian State University
As the premier public undergraduate institution in the Southeast, Appalachian State University prepares students to lead purposeful lives. App State is one of 17 campuses in the University of North Carolina System, with a national reputation for innovative teaching and opening access to a high-quality, affordable education for all. The university enrolls more than 21,000 students, has a low student-to-faculty ratio and offers more than 150 undergraduate and 80 graduate majors at its Boone and Hickory campuses and through App State Online. Learn more at https://www.appstate.edu.